Presented by David Ninio to the Australian Jewish Genealogical Society SA Branch, 30 April 2002.
The Ninio migration to Australia has to be addressed in the context of our Family History. My topic today ‘To Australia, Via Spain, Turkey and Egypt’.
A frequent saying from my Mother was that a Jew knows where he or she is born but cannot be certain where he or she will die.
In the true sense of the International Jew, my ancestors are buried in the 5 continents of the World. More recently in Turkey, Egypt, Rome, Peru, Israel and Australia.
My expose to you is not necessarily factual. It is mixed with recollections of memories, feelings, emotions and my Spanish Jewish perspective.
Following the destruction of the second temple our sojourn starts in Spain. Spanish is our language, culture and religious expressions.
Our prayers are conducted till this day in both Hebrew and Spanish. The Hagada is fully recited in Spanish. The section dealing with the bread of affliction is sung like this [David sings in Spanish].
We prosper in Spain for over 1000 years. This is until the dark ages of the Spanish Inquisition. Christian Spain lead by their Queen and clerics turn viciously against their Jews.
The Jew has 3 choices. Convert, Die in Kiddush Hashem in the sanctification of
G-ds name or pretend to convert but remain Jewish. The Pretenders are known as MARANO, meaning pig in Spanish.
The majority converts, the survivors, the Maranos, gradually escape Spain. By the 1490s Spain is Jew free. Our Spanish Rabbis place a CHEREM on Spain. No Spanish Jew is allowed on what is now cursed land. It appears that Spain starts to go downhill from thereon.
Judaism does not sanction Martyrdom except when one is forced to murder, commit adultery or bow to a foreign G-d.
The Maranos commit a grave sin by bowing to a foreign G-d. This Sin remains in the psyche of Spanish Jews. For forgiveness Spanish Rabbis instigate the Kol Nidre Prayer on Yom Kippur. This prayer is eventually adopted by all Jews. In this prayer we renounce all vows, oaths and pledges and seek G-ds acceptance of our prayer.
My name NINIO means in Spanish the little one. In colloquial Spanish it also means Baby Jesus. I have often thought of changing this name of exile. A name chosen to hide our true identity.
The Ottoman Empire is the Savior of the Jewish People. Refuge to the Jews is granted in Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and parts of Rumania.
The Jews take with them their language which is changed in time to Judeo Espaniol. The characters of the written language are initially Hebrew but changes to Roman characters during the Napoleonic period. Judeo Espaniol is the only language that my Grandmother speaks.
The fortunes of the Jews in Turkey is volatile and changes with each generation. Education is the way to a better life.
I lay no claim to ancestral Rabbinical Scholarship. My Great Grandfather David, reputed to be a very good-looking man starts his working life by selling fabrics door to door to Greek women. This is while their husbands are at work. He sells plenty and eventually becomes a rich merchant.
My maternal Grandfather a clever man but not very good at making a living is a true socialist. He has ongoing fights with the Synagogue because wealthy people are given privileged treatment.
My paternal Grandfather is a well off Manufacturer of Fezes Turkish hats. This is until the Revolution lead by Kemal Ataturk bans the wearing of Turkish hats.
My father is apprenticed to an Armenian Pharmacist. They share a very close relationship as the Armenian man has no children of his own.
Jews and Turks rarely mix socially. Kosher homes and religious observance is the norm. Intermarriage is unknown. On the rare occasions when this happens the Family makes Kria, the mourning sign when a person dies.
Jews are called to Army Service. My Uncle dies at Gallipoli. Another Uncle is wounded and a third one is shell-shocked. Jews are not part of mainstream society and are referred as Yehudi Shetufi. Dirty Jews.
Egypt is seen as a land of opportunity, the same as Australia or America is considered by Migrants today.
My Father and Mother have not yet met. Both families migrate separately. My Mother who is only 16 at the time is left in charge of her Mother and Aunt.
My Father starts his working life working in a Pharmacy and my Mother in a Bank.
The Lingua Franca is French but Spanish is the spoken language at home. Spanish Jewish Customs are retained. Foods like avas caldoudas, borekas, sopado, gueyna, carne soufrita and chandrajo is what we eat at home. Intimate family friendships is always with other Spanish Jews.
At 20 my Mother marries my Father who is 26. Their introduction to courtship is through my Mothers Brother.
The social structure of Jew in Egypt is determined by wealth. There are 4 distinct groups. The Orientals comprising of Egyptians, Syrians, Yemenites, North Africans. The Spanish. The Karaites and the Ashkenazim. In my Mother’s generation marriage outside the grouping is rare.
In the guise of modernism and fashion the wealthier Jews try to imitate the Europeans and tend to keep less to Jewish Traditions.
Shortly after marrying my Father starts his own business. A Droguerie a small scale Pharmaceutical wholesaler. We now belong to the upper middle class not wealthy but very comfortable. Life is easy, Servants at Home, membership to exclusive clubs. My Mother spends her spare time at the Club, My Father at Work. My Grandmother supervises the cooking and my Aunt the housework. We spend every year 3 months Summer holiday by the Beach on the edge of the Desert. My memories are of exquisite food, the Blue Mediterranean Sea, the Bedouins with their goats selling milk as they pass by.
All 3 brothers are sent to Private Colleges where we learn English. I am born in 1940. British Soldiers are everywhere. The War is far away in the Desert in Tobruk. 150km’s away.
My group consciousness is fed by my Grandmother who instills in me memories of the Armenian Holocaust, the Micva Baths, the Kabalist Rabbis. No major decision is taken without consulting a Kabbalist Rabbi in her neighborhood. I am still a Spanish Jew.
My Friendship grouping is Cosmopolitan but essentially Jewish.
One of my early recollection is my Family sitting around the Radio listening to Kol Israel. Its 1948, my Mother with tears in her eyes saying We now have a Country, Our Country Israel.
Farouk is in Power; the Country becomes unsettled. Time For the Jews to move on. The first wave of Jews from Egypt start to migrate to Australia. Amongst them my Uncle Gabrielle Abraham.
Its 1957, we are still in Egypt. Nationalism is on the rise. Nasser is in Power. Israel has invaded Sinai. We are expelled from the Club. Many Jews are interned. Definitely Time for us to leave.
As all good Jews, my Mother remembers an old Italian citizenship from her Father. With an Italian Mother we travel to Rome as refugees. We are allowed 300 Jordanian pounds per person with 20 kilo of luggage and personal jewelry.
What a shock it is for my Father, from being in control we now have to rely on Jewish Welfare. 5 of us share a rented room. My Father Mother Grandmother Great Aunt and myself.
All is not doom and gloom for me it is one of the best periods of my life – I am 16 and discover the sensual delight of beautiful Roman Girls. I learn Italian rapidly and because of my language skills join the Tourist Industry. To be more precise my job is to ride a Vespa and entice foreign Tourists traveling by car to a third rate hotel.
In the Hotel my Boss Peppino plays poker with me and I regularly lose all my wages. This is until I learn to play.
My Grandmother Rachelle dies in Rome at the age of 85. Shortly afterwards my great Aunt Esther also dies. We are now able to travel to Australia. The Australian Migration Policy did not allow my Grandmother and Aunt to migrate because of their age.
We arrive in Australia in 1960. My two brothers are waiting for us. Albert meets us in Melbourne and we travel to Adelaide by Train. We spend the first week with my Uncle Gabrielle and then take a flat opposite K Mart on the Anzac Highway. All buildings appear to me to be unfinished with exposed bricks and un-plastered walls surrounded by Galvanized iron.
I experience my first barbeque and picnic kicking a ball two days after my arrival. This is organized by my Brother’s Boss to whom he is apprenticed as a chemist. Mr Somerville.
People are friendly and generally welcoming. They ask where do you come from – a difficult question for me to answer – do you like it here. We are known without malice as New Australians.
It’s a time of opportunity – initiative is rewarded. There is a perceived sense of egalitarianism, of hope and that anything can be achieved.
It’s 1967. The Memorial Hall in the old Synagogue is filled with people. The Speaker is Gus Hines. A call is made for Volunteers to help in the eminent war. Benjy Wolfson and I leave Australia for the 6 Day War. War. In Israel there is a feeling of Euphoria. The unbelievable has happened. A miracle. Jerusalem is ours.
My wife also a Volunteer Nurse from New Zealand works in the Mirpaa. She is very popular amongst the Anglo Saxon Kibbutzniks. They understand her.
A Bad start to our relationship. I ask her for sick leave because of an awful cold. She tells me to have a good run and sweat it off. She refuses to give me sick leave.
To get even with her I decide to marry her. We marry in Adelaide in 1969.
2002. We are blessed with 3 wonderful children and 1 grandson. My eldest daughter is a Marine Scientist and lives in Darwin.
My son and daughter live in Jerusalem.
My son is a soldier in a Combat Unit. The Givati Brigade and Candidate for the Air Force.
My daughter is applying for a Masters degree in Psychology.
Our previous Generations exemplified the wondering Jew. Where to from Here. Hashem only knows. With my children in Israel it could be the end of my Family’s exile and the beginning of our redemption.