Like the pieds noirs, the Jews were faced with a stark choice: suitcase or coffin.
The watchword was now ‘Muslim Algeria’ not ‘Algeria for the Algerians.’ No ‘foreigner,’ even those who had fought for the FLN, was awarded Algerian nationality, unless they had a Muslim father. There was no place for Jews in the new Algeria, as there is no place for Jews anywhere in the Arab world.
A forest of velvet bags hangs from the ceiling as you enter the special exhibition on the Jews of Algeria currently at the Musee d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaisme in Paris. The bags are shaped like New York Police Department badges, each richly embroidered or embossed with a boy’s name in gold or silver thread. It was customary for the boy’s family to present him with a bag when he reached bar mitzvah age: it contained a talith (prayer shawl) or tefillin (phylacteries).
These bags are almost the only vestiges remaining of Jewish life in Algeria. The synagogues have mostly been turned into mosques – like the Great Synagogues of Algiers or Oran. The main synagogue of Constantine has been reduced to a parking lot. Algeria has hardly any Jews left, and no communal life to speak of. In July 2011, when its last client Esther Azoulay died, the Joint, the US-based agency which helps Jews in distress, would up its operations in the country.