History of the Jews in Sudan

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There was a small Jewish presence of eight families in 1885 when the rebel leader Muhammad El-Mahdi seized control of Sudan from its Ottoman-Egyptian rulers. The origins of these families and how they settled in Sudan is largely unknown. In 1885 they were forcibly converted to Islam.[1] In September 1898, General Kitchener and 20,000 Anglo-Egyptian troops including a young Winston Churchill entered Omdurman and regained control of the Sudan. The country became an Anglo-Egyptian condominium and with this new political status it began to economically flourish. The railway line built by the British from Cairo to Khartoum (originally for the military campaign) became particularly important for opening up a previously long and difficult route for traders, including many Jews.

After Anglo-Egyptian rule had been established, six of the formerly Jewish families chose to revert to Judaism. They were quickly joined by many more Jewish families who saw the economic opportunities of the developing country. From 1900 Jews from all over the Middle East and North Africa began to arrive in Sudan via Cairo and settle along the Nile in the four towns of Khartoum, Khartoum North, Omdurman and Wad-Medani. Predominantly small time merchants of textiles, silks and gum, their businesses soon began to flourish. By 1926 the small synagogue they had quickly erected had been replaced by a brand new, self-funded building and several of its members owned large, successful business.[2]

Despite the fact that the Jewish community as a whole was split over several towns, it was incredibly tight-knit. A single mohel and shochet served the entire community and at the centre of the social scene was the bustling Jewish Social Club (sometimes referred to as the Jewish Recreational Club).[3]

At its peak, between 1930 and 1950 the Jewish community in Sudan numbered between 500 and 1000 people. In 1956 Sudan gained independence and hostility towards the Jewish Community began to grow.[4] From 1957 many members of the community began to leave Sudan for Israel (via Greece), America and other European countries - primarily Britain and Switzerland. By 1970 almost all of the Jewish community had left Sudan.

In 1977 a large-scale air-transfer of many human remains from the Jewish Cemetery in Khartoum was organised by several prominent members of the community and reburial was arranged in Jerusalem. As of 2005 there were at least 15 Jewish graves left in the Jewish Cemetery at Khartoum.[5] However, in recent years even these have been desecrated and the site is now used as a dumping ground for used car parts. The site of the much older Jewish Cemetery in Omdurman is unknown. The Synagogue was sold and demolished in 1986 and a bank now occupies the site.

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  1. ^ "Jewish Mag". 
  2. ^ Warburg, Gabriel R (2001). "Notes on the Jewish community in Sudan in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.". Bulletin of the Academic Center in Cairo (24): 22–6. 
  3. ^ Tales of Jewish Sudan http://www.talesofjewishsudan.com/stories/of-shoe-shops-dressmakers-and-balls:7/2015.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ Malka, Eli S. (1997). Jacob's Children in the Land of the Mahdi: Jews of the Sudan. Syracuse University Press. 
  5. ^ "Khartoum (Sudan) Jewish Cemetery 2005 - Extended Version". YouTube.