For the week ending 3 December 2016 / 3 Kislev 5777

Gavriel Zarruk

by Rabbi Shlomo Simon
Library Library Library

Age: 27
Livorno, Italy

University of Pisa

Student in Mechina Program

The history of Jews in the Levant is a long one. By and large, before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 relations between the people and the rulers of those lands and the Jews were relatively good. Libya was an exception. Unlike other countries in North Africa, Libya was conquered by the Italians in 1911. Until 1936 the Jewish community there was quite prosperous and well integrated into the economy, professions, educational system and the government of the country. Beginning in the mid-30s the climate changed. Mussolini — the fascist dictator of Italy — and Hitler entered into an alliance. Germany pressured the Italians to enact laws that dispossessed Jews of their citizenship and civil rights. In 1938 Italy capitulated to the pressure and started disenfranchising its Jews. In 1942, during the Second World War, Jews were deported to concentration camps in Libya. While these were not extermination camps, they might have become extermination camps if the Allies had not defeated Rommel and his Wehrmacht divisions in 1943. Because many Jews had been displaced, their economic situation was poor even though the British, who were then governing Libya, were benevolent to the community. In 1945 the Arab population, needing no particular cause, made a pogrom on the Jewish community and killed almost 150 people, destroying many synagogues and businesses. In 1948, after Israel was established as a State, there were more riots. Most Jews emigrated to Israel, some to Italy and a small community was left in Bengazi and Tripoli.

Gavriel’s father was born in Bengazi and his mother in Tripoli. In 1967, after the Six Day War, Arab passions flared up against the Jews and the small community left, leaving only a handful of Jews in Libya. Gavriel’s grandparents and their families moved to Livorno, Italy, where there was an established Libyan Sephardi community of about 700 Jews. But it was a dwindling community. Young people were either making aliyah or moving to the larger cities like Rome. There were not enough Jewish children to justify a Jewish day school when Gavriel was growing up, so he went to public school. His family, including his six brothers and sisters, is religious and keeps Shabbat and kashrut. His Jewish education was through afternoon classes at his synagogue.

After graduating from high school, Gavriel chose to study History and Political Science at the University of Pisa. As in much of Europe, there was quite of bit of Anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment in Pisa — mostly from left-wing Italians, of which there are many. Realizing that there was no future for Jews in Italy, he made aliyah in 2014. After working at various jobs in Tel Aviv, Gavriel made the decision to make up for lost time and get a more comprehensive Jewish education. His rabbi in Bnei Braq suggested that the best place for him was Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem. He has a sister who has been learning in Neve Yerushalayim for over a year and a half, so he has family here in Jerusalem. He came to the Mechina Program in Elul. Of his experience so far, Gavriel says: “It’s a very good environment here. I feel the simcha of the mitzvot and I am learning to understand the mitzvot. I also really like the atmosphere in the homes of the families that I have been invited to for Shabbat.”

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