Issue 19 /
June 2021 Focus Introduction

From the Other Shore: Transnational Jewish Journeys Along Africa’s Shores

DOI : 10.48248/issn.2037-741X/12566
A house in the Jewish Lusitania quarter of Casablanca. Photograph taken by Jean-Louis Cohen during his trip to Casablanca in January 2021.



I’d like to acknowledge that the writing of the various articles of this issue was undertaken before the eruption of the COVID 19 global health crisis, subsequently interrupted by it, and then resumed during the slow recovery. I would like to thank all the contributors for their commitment, their generous efforts and collective spirit in staying the course despite it all. I’d like to gratefully acknowledge the generous support of the Taube Center for Jewish Studies at Stanford University for the publication of these essays. Last but not least, I'd like to thank the editorial team of Quest for their great dedication, patience and expertise, and the anonymous referees for their constructive comments and recommendations.

In his famous poem, “Lovers on Aran,” Irish Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney writes in the last strophe:

Did sea define the land or land the sea?
Each drew new meaning from the waves’ collision.
Sea broke on land to full identity1

This collection of essays entitled “From the Other Shore: Transnational Jewish Journeys Along Africa’s Shores” aims at interrogating the encounter between the land and the sea, in a metaphorical attempt to equal the sea with Jewish journeys and the land with the African shores. This ensemble investigates Jewish trajectories in their anthropological, architectural, historical, literary, and sociological dimensions and gathers anthropologists, historians, literary scholars, and sociologists of culture. Bringing together a diverse range of scholars in the humanities who think about the historical and geographical specificities of Jewish presence on Africa’s shores, our volume explores the complexities of the peripheries of a continent in which the framing of memory, imperial urban architecture, inter-religious tensions, identity negotiations, including the Jewish multi-secular presence in North Africa, were all carefully constructed.

The texts address the themes of Jewish transnational migration and transoceanic journeys along African shores, via the voluntary and/or forced circulation of persons, cultural practices, and ideas. They explore the themes of imperial rule by the British, French and Italian empires, in the context of the development of these empires and also in the context of the very end of these empires.

Included in this collection are explorations of North, South and Eastern African migration narratives and the narrative of the absence of migration, the disruptions caused by exile, and the distortions caused by replacement. Our contributors, hailing from different disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, use a wide array of sources: archives from different institutions, both public and private, maps, statistics, literary texts, works of fiction and nonfiction, diaries, family letters, correspondence, photographs, oral and video interviews, etc. Letters, in particular, serve as an unbroken thread that traverse the seas and the continents (Robins, Trevisan Semi), an intercultural fabric that thrives long after the departure from those places.

The volume covers a vast range of literary and historical research—architecture, autobiographical discoveries, diaspora and migration studies, political history, multicultural imperial policies, human rights, anti-Semitism, gender, colonizer and colonized dynamics, generational shifts, and transnational identities—which showcase how the relationship between the citizen, the stateless, the refugee, the nazi, the fascist, the colonial subject, the representative of the British, Italian and French Empires, and the national and imperial collective are reconfigured, in relation to transnational structures and in the different temporalities of wartime and peacetime.

The articles outline the case of African Jews moving to Europe (Cohen, Trevisan Semi) and the case of European Jews moving to Africa (Robins, Sides). They also shed light on both the immediate and the gradual impact of Fascism and Nazism, and on how the internal imperial structures reverberated far away from the European continent. This collection zooms in and out temporally to deal with the significance of transnational Jewish trajectories along African outlines and evaluates the political cultures that permitted or prevented these journeys. They investigate the urban space, the questions of displacement and exile, ethnicity, gender and religion in a comparative perspective, as well as the interplay of insularity, refugees, return, and “undesirables.”

Typically, migration studies have concentrated on the over-used dichotomy between the national and the transnational. On the contrary, this issue attempts to offer a different viewpoint. First, it goes beyond the one-dimensional vision that often delineates the transnational as “the West” when dealing with Jewish diasporas. Second, it does not apprehend the national and the transnational as opposing spheres of influence and infusion but rather emphasizes the intertwined cross-pollination between the two.2 Mapping Jewish presence along the shores of Africa means mapping multi-vocal micro-histories in plural historical temporalities. This is the raison d’être of this volume, relying on the existing scholarship in Jewish Studies in particular, but also in Migration Studies, Diaspora Studies, African Studies, and Postcolonial Studies. It explores through a multiplicity of points of view—political, literary, linguistic, historical, geographical—the ideas of Jewish journeys along Africa’s shores.

If some contributions touch upon the centuries-long Jewish presence on the shores of Africa (Cohen, Trevisan Semi) others deal specifically with the unfolding and tragic consequences for Jewsof the Second World War (Robins, Sides), or with both (Cohen), but all articles are rooted in the twentieth century. They explore when and where the Jewish presence was attached to European colonialism (British, Italian, French) but also when it preceded it, and when it outlived it.

There are myriad ways to define a journey and a shore. “From the other shore” first takes on a geographical meaning: from the Atlantic shore of Morocco to the Pacific shore of California (Cohen), from the shores of the horn of Africa to Italy (Trevisan Semi), from Germany to the South African shores (Robins), along African Shores that had been weaved in a vertical migratory way from Eritrea to Palestine (Trevisan Semi), from the shores of Europe to the shores of the Indian Ocean, and ultimately to South Africa (Sides), from the Moroccan shores of Casablanca to the French shores of Marseille and back (Cohen).

There is also a mental geography to take into account in this multi-layered investigation. There is an alternate, metaphorical meaning of “from the other shore.” It can also be understood as “from the shore of the Other,” the Jew being historically the paradigmatic figure of the Other, “the Original ‘Other’ .”3 Finally, the journey itself embraces the dual notion, on one hand, of the physicality of a journey, by crossing oceans, seas and lands as in a journey in motion by boat, plane, road, train; and, on the other, a non-physical notion as in “old age is a journey” or “childhood is a journey,” in an effort to understand “journey” both as a voyage and a process.

This issue traces the place and role of Jewish individual itineraries and collective history in architectural, cultural, literary and political history beyond the autobiographical, biographical and historical representation of the where and when of Jewish presence around the African continent, the “Other” in a social fabric that exacerbates divisions. Among the recurring themes in these articles are a reevaluation of the legacies of the Jewish presence at the edge of Africa (Cohen, Trevisan Semi), the long-lasting shadow of the Holocaust in colonial and postcolonial societies (Robins, Sides), and in the racist white South African society (Robins). These essays provide nuanced answers to complex questions about history, memory, urban development, race, gender and ethnicity on the shores of Jewish Africa from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century, and frame a new understanding of Transnational Jewish Journeys Along Africa’s Shores in becoming “African Journeys along Jewish Shores.”

It is our hope and ambition that our issue offers new insights into the “bricolage” of the Jewish migration narrative, by investigating the meanings of Jewish journeys along Africa’s shores through multiple lenses.

In “Casablanca la juive: Public and Private Architecture 1912-60,” historian of modern architecture Jean-Louis Cohen investigates the city of Casablanca as a decisive anchoring territory for Moroccan Jews, and for those originating from Europe and the Maghreb, who took part in the modernization of the city under French rules. He strengthens his essay with both well-known and rare new images of the city and grounds his reflections on the path-breaking book he co-authored with the sociologist Monique Eleb in 1998, Casablanca, mythes et figures d’une aventure urbaine.4 European Jews started to settle in Casablanca after the 1864 journey undertaken by Moses Montefiore, a British philanthropist who negotiated a protégé status for Moroccan Jews in specific cities. Around 1900, a plan shows three specific areas: the Muslim city itself, the Mellah for the Jewish districts in Moroccan cities, and the Tnaker, a place made up of straw huts for the poorest residents. Jews were subject to the dhimma, the Islamic law protecting them as well as Christians. One of its requirements was that they might not build houses, nor synagogues higher than Muslim mosques and buildings. The French landing of 1907 affected Moroccan Jews in at least two ways: the bombing destroyed part of the Mellah and new rules on real estate were also passed, authorizing Jews to fully own their land. Jews started to leave the Mellah to settle in the town and they actively took part in transforming Casablanca into the first ground-breaking “French” city in which the nascent discipline of city-planning was launched, under the guidance of French General Resident Hubert Lyautey, at once a champion of safeguarding old cities, and of innovative new urban planning. He was assisted by the architect Henri Prost, who reconfigured the Lusitania Quarter in the southwest of the precolonial city.

Cohen outlines the role of prominent Jewish traders and financiers, such as Haim Bendahan, in the reshaping of the city. In the 1920s, the port of Casablanca grew at a fast pace and so did its demographics, including its Jewish component, who continued to take a decisive role in the urban expansion in their three distinctive roles of architects, builders, and landowners. They patronized architects of diverse origins, including the Suraqui brothers, Jews from Algeria, who had come to Morocco by way of Gibraltar. The Suraqui notably built the heterotopic space5 of the Narcisse Leven school of the Alliance Israélite Universelle on boulevard Moulay Youssef. During the interwar period, the highest buildings were erected for Jewish clients, such as the ten-floor Moses Asayag building by architect Marius Boyer. Cohen interprets this as “nothing less than a revenge over the dhimma.

During the Second World War, Charles Noguès, the Resident General of France, was a Vichy supporter and applied the metropolitan racial laws in the Protectorate. In 1941, Jews were prohibited from residing in the new town—with the exception of those in the suburban villas—and had to face more harassment. Jewish architects were detained—including the Suraqui brothers.

Cohen also sheds light on the era between 1945 and the end of the Protectorate in 1956, when Casablanca enjoyed a new golden age, under the influence of American “soft power.” One of the most innovative architects of the time was Élie Azagury, hailing from a Jewish family from Tangiers. Trained at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, he spent the war years in Marseille with another fellow countryman and architect, Jean-François Zevaco. After his voyage to California, Azagury brought back to Casablanca the architectural language of Los Angeles-based architect Richard Neutra. Some Jewish architects never left Morocco, even after 1967. Such was the case of Azagury, who not only stayed in the country, but was even a key player in postcolonial urban policies and became the first president of the Moroccan Order of Architects in 1956. The remaining Jews in Casablanca number only a few hundreds in the twenty-first century, but their buildings are still dominant features of the city. Architect Aimé Kakon transformed a former orphanage to host the Musée du judaïsme marocain, which was opened in 1997 by Simon Lévy. Jean-Louis Cohen ends his article by highlighting the ambitious plan launched in 2017 to preserve the architectural heritage of the central city, including its Jewish dimensions such as the Lusitania neighborhood, the buildings by Azagury, Suraqui and Boyer, under the leadership of a team of Moroccan and French architects and scholars, himself included. This plan should be implemented in 2021, hence strengthening the Moroccan attempt to put Casablanca on the Unesco World Heritage list.

In his essay, “In the Shadows of the Shoah and Apartheid: Recovering traces of ‘difficult pasts’ of German-Jewish refugees in South Africa,” anthropologist Steven Robins investigates the life trajectories of Jewish refugees in South Africa using the notions of ”usable pasts” and “chosen amnesia” to question the relevance of such concepts in light of murderous anti-Semitism during the Nazi era (1933-1945) and to understand why they almost disappear from the agora after the war, when an entente between South African Jews and the ruling National Party took place. Robins’s article concentrates on an account of the passage of South African Jews from being a racialized Other in the early half of the twentieth century to “becoming white” after the Second World War, on the basis of his book Letters of Stone: From Nazi Germany to South Africa (2016). This essay examines the socioeconomic and political circumstances that enabled this unsettled “transition to whiteness” amid South African Jews, referring to previous studies of the experiences of German-Jewish refugees in South Africa (Hellig, Schwab, Sichel, Schain).

Robins also broadens the scope of his research by rooting it in his personal archives, exploring the divergent itineraries of his late father Herbert Leopold Robinski, and his brother Artur, who both fled to South Africa in the mid-1930s, and of their parents and siblings who stayed in Germany and were deported to Auschwitz and Riga. He also investigates the integration of South African Jews into Apartheid’s societal fabric and whether Jews’ incorporation into the white social order of the apartheid system required ‘strategic forgetting’ about the history of the National Party’s support for Nazi Germany, its use of anti-Semitic rhetoric in the 1930s, and its advocacy for the 1938 Aliens Act that effectively ended Jewish immigration.”

His contribution finds inspiration in Karen Brodkin’s groundbreaking ethnography, How Jews Became White Folks & What That Says About Race in America,6 which explores the relationship between Jews and whiteness, analyzing how East European Jews were racially Othered upon arriving in the United States, and how to grasp this Otherness. Robins’s essay also echoes Sides’s investigation of another “Jewish Otherness” in the context of British-controlled Mauritius.

Lastly, Robins deals with the apartheid era by challenging the idea of the “unusable past” of such a charged legacy, expanding on Claudia Braude’s analysis that dwelling on this distraught history of Jewish racial complexities can advance our comprehension of South Africa’s racist heritage.

In her essay, “Between Italy and Ethiopia, Western and African Judaism: the life of Taamrat Emmanuel, an Ethiopian Jewish Intellectual,” Emanuela Trevisan Semi innovatively examines the life journey ofEmmanuel Taamrat (1888-1963), one of the first men from the Beta Israel (Falashas), to be brought from Ethiopia to Europe by Jacques Faitlovitch in order to be “regenerated by Western Judaism.” The movement of Beta Israel between Italy and Ethiopia, should be read in the contextual ideological dimension of the “regeneration” narrative of the Alliance Israélite Universelle(AIU), promoted in Ethiopia by Joseph Halévy, and his student Jacques Faitlovitch, a Jew from Poland. This dimension shows a stimulating parallel with Cohen’s mention of the building of the Narcisse Leven school of the Alliance Israélite Universelleby the Suraqui brothers in Casablanca, and the role played by Jewish architects in the spatial visibility of theAlliance Israélite Universelle.

During his first mission to Ethiopia in 1904, Faitlovitch discovered Taamrat in a Swedish mission in Asmara, the capital city of Italian Eritrea located on the Red Sea. Taamrat was a smart young man who, according to Faitlovitch, was capable of becoming the “regenerator” of his own group, the Beta Israel of Ethiopia. A school for the Beta Israel was created in Addis Abeba in 1923—and not in Eritrea because of opposition by the Italian government—as a result of Faitlovitch’s strong relationship with Ras Tafari Makonnen, the future Hailé Selassie, the emperor of Ethiopia, and despite the fact that the AIU was set against mingling with black people of debatable Jewish origins.

After a couple of years stationed in Paris, Emmanuel Taamrat was put under the guidance of rabbi Margulies at the Collegio Rabbinico in Florence in 1906. He stayed in Italy for thirteen years and this period would turn out to be instrumental on Taamrat’s intellectual, political, and personal development. Personalities such as the socialist lawyer and scholar of Judaism Raffaele Ottolenghi had a tremendous influence on Taamrat.

He also met Leda Rafanelli (1880-1971) an Italian anarchist and feminist who converted to Islam, and Emanuela Semi Trevisan explores their relationship in new archival materials she discovered in the anarchist’s family archives in Reggio Emilia.

Taamrat went to Palestine in 1919 and later to Ethiopia. In 1931, he left Ethiopia for a trip to the United States to meet with black leaders in Harlem interested in Judaism. As the director of the Falasha school in Addis Abeba for many years, he was then forced to leave for Egypt in 1937. In 1940, while he was in Egypt, Taamrat decided not to join Faitlovitch in Palestine, instead opting to help the Resistance reconquer Ethiopia, and he indeed returned to Ethiopia in 1941 with the Allies and Hailé Selassie’s son and royal heir of, Asfa Wossen. He was then named by Hailé Selassie President of the Committee of Public Education. In 1948 he was sent to Paris again, but this time as the cultural attaché at the Ethiopian embassy. In his last years, he was exiled to Asmara and then to Jerusalem, where he died.

As an individual Taamrat suffered from his condition of being doubly colonized, by western Judaism and by Italian occupation. He was subject to Faitlovitch’s assertive persona, who forbade him from voicing his political views against Fascism. Moreover, as Trevisan Semi writes, as a native Jew, he also felt pressured by the colonial vision of the official representatives of Italian Jewry who subscribed to Italy’s so-called civilizing mission in Ethiopia and thought that colonization might allow them to impose the values of Italian and western Judaism upon the indigenous Jews of Ethiopia.” He was deeply engrossed in and attached to European Jewish culture, western thought and Italian culture and language. His trajectory could be apprehended as yet another iteration of Albert Memmi’s notion of the colonized and colonizing Jew. Trevisan Semi aptly refers to sociologist Dominique Schnapper’s notion of the “minorité redoublée,”7 the “double minority”: a political minority within the colonized under the colonial power, but also a minority among Italian Jewry. Trevisan Semi even argues that Taamrat was three times a minority: minority as an Ethiopian, minority as a Jew, and minority as a Beta Israel.

In his article, “Holocaust and the Indian Ocean: Jewish Detention in Mauritius, 1940-1945,” Kirk Sides starts his essay with a quote by Kenyan-born, Somali-British poet Warsan Shire:

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land

We want to add the following lines of the poem, and no one would leave home /unless home chased you to the shore,” which forcefully illustrate Sides’s piece. Based on extensive archival research on several continents, and literary interpretations of Indo-Mauritian writer Nathacha Appanah’s novel, Le dernier frère, Sides’s essay explores transnational exodus, immigration policies, the possibilities of escape from Europe in 1940, and Jewish detention in the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius, a British colony on the shores of Southeast Africa and Madagascar. His piece offers a compelling analysis of the dynamics between colonial and Jewish identities during the Second World War. On September 4, 1940 four steamships left Bratislava and travelled down the Danube to the Black Sea, en route to Palestine. Aboard, there were nearly 2000 Jews from across Eastern Europe rounded up by German authorities. Their journey down the Danube would end not in Haifa but on the island of Mauritius, because British colonial authorities had enforced the White Paper of 1939, which restricted Jewish immigration to British Mandatory Palestine, consequently denying entry to this group. On December 9, these 1580 travelers were put aboard two Dutch ocean liners that navigated through the Suez Canal and along the East Coast of Africa until the ships arrived in the harbor of Port Louis, Mauritius, on December 26. 1940. These now stateless people would spend the duration of the war detained in the Beau Bassin Prison, which had been converted into an internment camp.

Their presence there would leave a long-lasting mark on the island and its inhabitants, as well as the South African Jewish community. However, this is a mark that has remained mostly un-mapped. Sides investigates precisely the scarce archival materials pertaining to this transcontinental exodus and the subsequent internment in Beau Bassin: artistic creations produced by two of the detainees, Czech-born artists Peretz Beda Mayer and Fritz Haendel, as well as a novel by Nathacha Appanah, Le dernier frère (2007), translated by Geoffrey Strachan under the title The Last Brother: A Novel (2011). Sides argues that her novel stands in sharp contrast to the previous exoticizing renderings of Mauritius, presenting the island territory as intertwined with the Jewish plight and insular exile:

Mauritius gives space for thinking about the role of imperial and colonial geo-politics in the making of what would become perhaps the defining political subjectivity of the twentieth century, the stateless refugee. In thinking about Mauritius as host to a Southern Hemisphere experience of the Holocaust, perhaps it is possible to see the ways in which not only the rise of Nazi Europe, but also the geo-political tectonics of the dissolution of European empires and the creation of postcolonial nations across the globe were entangled in a related set of motions surrounding Europe’s expulsion of its Jewish population. As such, the political subjectivities that arose from them and out of their aftermaths—the postcolonial subject, the stateless refugee—must be thought about in relation to one another.

This paper showcases the willpower of the colonial networks to rally other areas under the same imperial juridiction to “solve” situations unfolding several seas away, the question of Jewish immigration to Palestine echoing all over the British Empire.

To conclude, this collection of essays tries to illuminate the circulation of Jewish trajectories in their relationship to African histories (Maghrebi, Eastern African, South African, Islander), and the ways they may be read to re-imagine the role of Jewish diasporas in the world. If we can observe an inclination towards androcentrism in these articles, however, the collection offers original and heuristic proposals to think of Jewish journeys after the Second World War outside the binarism of Europe/Northern America and capitalism/communism by looking at elements of reality that empires are often unwilling to acknowledge. The volume also investigates the generational dimensions of Jewish-African journeys under a diverse light: the brotherly relationship (Robins), the mentorship one (Semi Trevisan), the professional networks (Cohen), and the connections forged by Jewish strangers thrown together on Ocean liners for a trip from continental Europe to their Mauritius prison camp by way of the Suez Canal, with the prison site re-imagined through fiction by the female author Nathacha Appanah (Sides).

Mapping new ways of envisaging Jewishness, both in reality and in fiction, highlighting innovative routes of cultural exchange and translating the growing polysemic dimensions of a Jewish journey bonded to African shores is the ultimate goal of this collective reflection. These essaysbring new perspectives on and interpretations of transnational narratives. The narrative backbones of these stories offer a new understanding to the expansion and retraction of empires, nation-state and citizenship, before and after decolonization, along Africa’s shores. We believe it will be of keen interest to scholars of/in Jewish studies, diaspora and migration studies, Mediterranean studies, Indian Ocean studies, Caribbean studies, comparative citizenship studies, transnational studies, decolonization studies, war studies, and urban studies.

[1] Seamus Heaney, “Lovers on Aran,” in Death of a Naturalist (London: Faber and Faber, 1966).

[2] In the same vein, regarding the transnational investigation but concentrating on another geographical map, see the volume edited by Yasemin Nuhoḡlu Soysal, Transnational Trajectories in East Asia, Nation, Citizenship, and Region (Abingdon-New York: Routledge, 2015).

[3] Aron Rodrigue, “The Jew as the Original ‘Other.’ Difference, Antisemitism, and Race,” in Doing Race: 21 Essays for the 21st Century, eds. Hazel Rose Markus and Paula Moya (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010), 187-198.

[4] Jean-Louis Cohen and Monique Eleb, Casablanca, mythes et figures d’une aventure urbaine (Paris: Hazan, 1998, new edition 2019). In English: Casablanca, Colonial Myths and Architectural Ventures (New York, The Monacelli Press, 2002).

[5] Michel Foucault, “ ‘Des espaces autres.’ Conférence au Cercle d’études architecturales, Paris, 14 mars 1967,” in Architecture, Mouvement, Continuité 5 (1984): 46-49, translated by Jay Miskowiec “Of Other Spaces,” Diacritics 16, no. 1 (1986): 22-27.

[6] Karen Brodkin, How Jews Became White Folks & What That Says About Race in America (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1998).

[7] Dominique Schnapper, La citoyenneté à l’épreuve, la democratie et les juifs (Paris: Gallimard, 2018), 208.

Marie-Pierre Ulloa is a Lecturer is the Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages at Stanford University, teaching French and Francophone cultural and intellectual history, with a focus on North Africa, the Caribbean and the American West. She is also the Senior Research Scholar for the Amos Gitaï Archive at the Stanford Libraries. Author of Francis Jeanson, a Dissident Intellectual from the French Resistance to the Algerian War (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008), also published in French and Arabic, and of Le Nouveau Rêve Américain: Du Maghreb à la Californie (The New American Dream: From North Africa to California) (Paris: CNRS éditions, 2019).

How to quote this article:
Marie-Pierre Ulloa,
From the Other Shore: Transnational Jewish Journeys Along Africa’s Shores,
ed. Marie-Pierre Ulloa,
Quest. Issues in Contemporary Jewish History. Journal of the Fondazione CDEC,
n. 19,
June 2021
DOI: 10.48248/issn.2037-741X/12566