Thursday, April 30, 2009

Restoration of a Farhi Mansion in Old Damascus

In the Svenska Dagbladet of 29 April 2009, under the tittle Damaskus kulturskatt dammas av Bitte Hammargren reports on the gentrification of old Damascus and in particular one of the 18th century mansions of the Farhis: the largest one also known as Beit Mouallem Raphael Farhi (1774-1844). The household had about 60 to 70 people living there, probably several families related to Raphael.

When Hakam Roukbi, a Syrian architect based in Paris, saw the Frederick Leigh's 1873 painting of the Farhi courtyard (La Ceuillette des Citrons) in the 2000 Damascus book by Brígida Keenan and Tim Beddow, he decided to restore the Farhi mansion and convert it into a luxury hotel. Opening of the Pacha Palace is due in late 2009 or early 2010.

The Beit Mouallem Farhi is in the Jewish quarter of Old Damascus and was described in many historical reports by foreign visitors such as F. Lowe, secretary of Sir Moses Montefiore,
Lady Hester Stanhope and John Wilson. A description of the Farhi Houses can be found on Les Fleurs website.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Holocaust Remembrance Day and Movies

Yesterday, to celebrate that day, I watched Schindler's List on HBO. It is still a powerful movie 16 years later. In 1993 & in Singapore, I remember seeing it with a Chinese audience that found funny the scene where children hid in the latrines' septic tanks.

Schindler's List should be shown every year on Yom HaShoah as the Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston are shown every Easter weekend in the US. It should also be beamed via satellite to every household in Iran and Arab countries as well.

I did noticed in the final credits a Ruth Farhi paying the role of an "Old Jewish Woman". Since they were so many, I could not identify her. A quick check on Google indicated that she also played in many Israeli films including the Syrian Bride. On Les Fleurs main tree, we have two Ruth née Farhi of similar age (Ruth Hai and Ruth Asher).

A year or so ago, I saw a documentary (Inheritance, 2006) about the daughter of Amon Göth (the SS Commander of the Płaszów Camp who was hanged after the war) and his last mistress who had passed away in 1980. After her mother's death, Monika Göth discovered her father's war history. The documentary related her efforts to meet a Jewish slave (Helen Jonas) who shared the Göth house with her mother. They both traveled to Plaszów to meet. A very moving story.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Presence of Farhi in Pre Inquisition Spain

I was recently alerted of a book mentioning names of Jewish families living in Spain before their expulsion in 1492: Les Juifs d'Espagne: Histoire d'une diaspora (1492-1992), by Mechoulan, Henry; Abitbol, Michel. To view a synopsis of that book visit the site of Italian Genealogy and search for the surname "Farhi".

I was happy to see another confirmation that some Farhi are on the list of surnames of families expelled in 1492. Thanks to the research of Mathilde Tagger of Jerusalem, we have found a Farhi family who lived in 1465 in Zaragoza, Spain. They were involved in a legal dispute of their inheritance. Two other Farhi (Salomon, Moshe) were documented as living in Avila Spain in 1480 and 1492 respectively. This could be the first documented proof that some Farhi descendants of the two brothers of Ishtori HaFarhi lived in Spain. Ishtori was given "Farhi" as his family name around 1306, he left Spain for Egypt and Eretz Israel. We assume that his brothers used the same family name as well.

Whether today's Farhi can be traced to these families remain to be proven and documented. A DNA test of several Farhi men has shown different Haplogroups and Region of Ancestral Origins. You can download a copy of a paper I wrote for Avotaynu at the following link Preliminary Results of Sephardic DNA Testing

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Gene Test Shows Spain's Jewish and Muslim Mix

I read on several Blogs references to that study.

Just to set the record straight. There is NO such a thing as a Jewish gene. DNA testing on the Y Chromosome for men does not determine any link to any religion. It just shows that that people who are Jewish today have a high probability to share the same DNA as people who live in a certain area of the world. Given the migration of Jews over the milleniums, one can only guess their Country of Origin.

Reference the recent article about Spain, you may wish to read the following study . A recent Gene Test Shows Spain's Jewish and Muslim Mix. That paper was reported at the following sites:

New York Times 5th Dec 2008
International Herald Tribune 5 Dec 2008
Israel National News
The Guardian 7 Dec 2008

The following comment by Gil Ronen in the Israeli National News is worth noting:

The term "Sephardic" is often used in a wider sense, however, to include most Jews of Asian and African origin, who use a Sephardic style of liturgy.

The American Journal of Human Genetics website has downloadable articles online and pdfs and text.

In 2004, we did a study on DNA based on 50 Jewish men selected to share the same family name but not having a known common ancestor. You can see the results and download a copy of my DNA and Common Ancestry paper . Today that study has been expanded and has over 100 participants (men and women). The complete data is available at the FTDNA website


Sephardim in Mumbai

I read on a blog a reference to the Sephardim in Mumbai.

I do not know if there were sephardic casualties in the recent Mumbai terrorist attack, but can state that India had for centuries a very large Sephardi presence. The term "Sephardic" is used here in a wider sense to include most Jews of Asian and African origin, who use a Sephardic style of liturgy.

From the late 18th century, many Sephardim from the former Ottoman Empire (Iraq and Aleppo, Aleppo) and what is now Iran and Afghanistan traveled to Bombay, Calcutta and many other India (then a British colony) cities for trade. From there they established commercial posts in Rangoon, Singapore, Shanghai, Japan.

Their legacy and small communities in these cities still exist.


Sunday, December 7, 2008


I have just created a blog for people interested in sharing thoughts about Les Fleurs de L'Orient, the web site I created in 1995 to include initially the genealogy of the Farhi families. In May 2000, it was expanded to include the families of anyone linked to them with their own ancestors and descendants regardless of their religion, ethnic origin and background. Since then, many new branches and trees have been added and the site include over 190,000 names in its databases. All of them are linked to each other.

Enjoy it.

Alain Farhi