Last Jews of Libya
Photos and Video
The Last Jews of Libya, a documentary by Vivienne Roumani-Denn, chronicles the history and plight of the Jewish community in Libya, particularly in the 20th century. Through the story of her own family, Roumani-Denn weaves together a touching and harrowing tale of a family and community torn apart by war and held together by tradition. Beautifully narrated by Isabella Rossellini, the documentary sheds light on the thriving Jewish community that once existed in Libya, tracing its origins to the 3rd century B.C. Although its existence was by no means secure and without bloodshed, it was not until the dawn of the Second World War that the Jews of Libya faced their greatest troubles. The arrival of the Italians eventually ushered in fascism, an assault on the community that left a lasting mark, only to be followed by British rule under which the Jews suffered one of the worst pogroms of that era. With the independence of Libya and the pan Arab movement that followed, the last remaining Jews of Libya fled, leaving only a memory of a once-thriving community. Roumani-Denn brings together her family, her photographs and her memories to chronicle this disappearance, raising some very important questions about identity, community, family and finally, the dilemma that still faces many in the Jewish communities across the world today: finding a hoe in the world. Preceded by Shut-Eye Hotel, directed by Bill Plympton.
Director's Statement Collapse
No one knew about the manuscript. After my mother died, my brother Maurice and I found her hand-written memoir describing her life in Libya. It clarified the allusions that we had heard so often to events before our births, it personalized the dry facts that we had learned as history, and it filled in facts that history books could not address. Elise Tammam Roumani was born just three years after the Italians conquered Libya from the Ottoman Turks, and she experienced the transition of the Libyan Jewish community under European influence. She wrote about family and Jewish life during the period of Italian colonization and the growth of Fascism, about the wrenching impact of the Second World War, and about the post-war experience with Arab nationalism. She described vibrant Jewish life and pogroms, and the intrinsic contradictions of relationships. I was born in Benghazi, Libya in 1950. We spoke Arabic and Italian at home. The Roumani family had roots in Libya that went back hundreds of years, but there was no place for Jews in Libya after the rise of Arab nationalism. Ninety-five percent of the Jewish community, including my mother's family, left Libya between 1949 and 1951, following the establishment of the State of Israel. My brother, Maurice, came to the U.S. in 1960 to study, because he could not attend the university in Libya. My brother Jacques followed in 1961, and I came with the remaining immediate family in 1962, at the age of twelve. The rest of my fathers family fled to Rome following riots and killings in 1967. The Jewish community in Libya had a recorded history dating back thousands of years. Today, there are no Jews in Libya. Not one. My family maintained the traditions of Libyan Sephardic Jewry in the United States in our homes, but we had no community with which to share these traditions. When my son Aryeh asked me to make a film, so that his children could appreciate their unique heritage, I knew that my mother's manuscript was the ideal template. The film is structured around her memoir, supplemented by interviews with other family members and archival film footage. It tells the story of our family and, through my mother's eyes, together with those of other members of the family, it tells the story of the Jews of Libya and the devastating effects of war and civil conflict on individuals and their generations. When I listen to Isabella Rossellini's lovely reading of her manuscript, I hear my mothers voice speaking to my grandchildren.
Film Information Collapse
[LIBYA] | 2007 | 50 | Documentary Feature
Directed by: Vivienne Roumani-Denn
Foreign Title: (The Last Jews of Libya)
Language: English, Hebrew, Italian, Arabic
Premiere: North American
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About the Director(s)Collapse
VIVIENNE ROUMANI-DENN was 12 years old when her family emigrated to Boston from Benghazi, Libya, where her ancestors had lived for centuries. She has been a department head at the Johns Hopkins Library and the Library of Congress, and later became the Judaica/Hebraica Librarian at University of California, Berkeley in order to pursue her research on Sephardic Jewry. In 1999, she moved to New York and served as Executive Director of the American Sephardi Federation, founding the Sephardic Library and Archives. She speaks Arabic, Hebrew, French, Spanish and Italian (the major languages of the Sephardic world) and has published and lectured widely on information technology, as well as Sephardic Jewry. This is her first film.