The Libyan Legacy


Tripoli Treasure

Excerpt adapted from the story The Libyan Legacy

The cover of the jewelry box was speckled with teardrops, except in the center of the pattern where the silversmith had left a circular impression—unblemished like the North African sun at noon. Here, under a whiff of the Mediterranean, the artisan had soldered the metal like his ancestors, Sephardim, had done for generations. In the bazaars of Tripoli, pedestrians haggled over these delicate crafts molded by Jewish hands, so eager were they to dust off the sands of war.
     A Libyan Jew named Eliyau Bdussa examined the octagonal treasure from every angle, and perhaps caught a glimpse of himself—frail from his captivity in a Nazi concentration camp—in the sheen. Pleased with the polish, he acquired the native craft for his cousin, Ayala Dadush, who was engaged to marry Saulino Arbib in Tripoli on March 27, 1946.
     Today the wedding portrait still retains a blush of color. Lizetta, the Arbibs oldest daughter, elaborated: "It was relatively rare to take this kind of picture at that time and place. The photographer's studio was on Via Gotto, not far from their house. My father remembers that the photographer, Mino Na'im had to be chased after for as long as a year to give them the picture. Like my parents, the photographer left Tripoli for Israel, during the mass exodus in 1949."

The Finjan

Excerpt adapted from the story The Libyan Legacy

When Libyan independence was proclaimed in January 1952, about four thousand Jews remained in the country, including some of Ayala and Saulino Arbib's siblings. Uncertain about economic opportunities in Israel, they stayed behind.

     Lizetta recalled the fate of these family members: "My father's brother, Dino, had an office doing commerce in Tripoli. He was well mannered, well dressed. In 1967, he and his wife, Esmeralda, were expelled from Libya, along with other members of our family who were still there. Once they arrived in Israel in '68, they had little money. They were already in their seventies. They never had any children, so after they died, I inherited their finjan (coffee pot)."


Excerpt adapted from the story The Libyan Legacy

At the age when Lizetta posed for this picture as Queen Esther for a Purim celebration, she began to tune out the chorus of languages—Hebrew, Italian, Judeo-Arabic, Ladino—surrounding her at home and on the Israeli playground.
     "I remember the day when I said to myself I am going to speak Hebrew from now on. I was around five. Eventually my mother spoke Hebrew to me, although she spoke Judeo-Arabic with my grandmother. My father asked me not to speak Arabic. 'If you speak a foreign language, speak Italian.' My grandmother didn't speak Italian fluently, nor Hebrew, so if I wanted to communicate with her, I had to speak Arabic. Initially I stopped conversing with her. Then I found a way to mix the three languages when I spoke with her, but it wasn't a real dialogue. Something was holding me back from speaking Arabic with my grandmother. Perhaps, it was because I wanted to be part of the Israeli culture and somehow I understood that if I spoke Arabic—the language of Israel's enemies then, the other kids would laugh at me."