After several attempts to contact rabbis of both congregations i decided to actually go to Gravesend in Brooklyn, walk around and check it out. The ride was quite long, 1h20 min. Both congregations are located at about 10 min walk from the train stop.
Since i did not really have a plan of where i was going and who i was going to talk to, i found it a good strategy to ask people on the street. A couple of Ashkenazi jews approached me because they saw a desperate look on my face. So the couple asked if i needed help. I said i was looking for Lebanese Jews to talk to. They didn’t know any. Yet they smiled, wished me luck and sent me to a grocery store at the corner.
It was freezing cold, the streets were quasi empty, i came at the wrong time of the day, because prayer (Minha in hebrew) is usually early morning or in the evening.
At the grocery store, i got a couple of rejections from women who seemed scared to reveal their ethnicity and unwilling to share any information. I added another rejection to my tally but i bought a loaf of chocolate Babka to lift my spirit. Chocolate always does it. Outside, a couple of Syrian Jews also approached me and the man was more than willing to help , he walked me inside one the congregation’s building. There was no one there available to talk. But i got an appointment to call the rabbi and ask a couple of questions on the phone.
I stood on the street waiting for passersby trying to overhear which language they spoke. As soon as i heard a Lebanese accent i approached them. From a very casual conversation from a Lebanese jew in a hurry, i got some information about the food, all Kosher, and that a Lebanese pastry shop in Bay Ridge Brooklyn sometimes caters for many families providing them with Kosher sweets.
I also went inside a hair salon and found my informants there. Lebanese women have a very strong commitment to the hairdresser. In fact, it would be safe to say that it is a weekly routine for many women in Lebanon to go the hairdresser. And it seems that it is the case for Lebanese jews as well. Two of my informants were at the hairdresser and gave valuable testimonials. Some of them asked me not to use their names for safety issues.
In fact, there was an anxiety factor associated with revealing their identities since some of them still travel to Lebanon -it is also their country after all- and want to avoid any problems.
My informants spoke Lebanese and conversed fluently in French as well. “Of course!”
The recurring thoughts and reflections about Lebanon are filled with pain and nostalgia. My informants teared as they spoke about their memories, about a country they love, about a prosperous and very pleasant life they once had. They all confessed that no matter where they go, they will find no place to live like Lebanon and the fact that they cannot live as a community and openly practice their religion is a frustrating and disturbing fact. Their displacement was absolutely excruciating. They left to ensure a safer and better life for their families. Yet some kept very strong ties to their land, their friendships in Lebanon, friends from all religions, both muslims and christians. They remembered the smell of Lebanon, the air, the sky, the sea, the trees, the social life, the prosperity, the tolerance, the coexistence, the dream that was taken away from them, a youth they lost there.
The testimonials were very loaded with emotions. But resilience is a trait that Lebanese jews have inherited from their country. They are an affluent community. They help each other, and maintain strong , strong family values. Most families are multigenerational.