Legacy of Jews in the MENA - World Jewish Congress
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The Jewish Legacy of Sudan

There are no archeological traces or historical references to Jewish communities in Sudan prior to the nineteenth century. However, a few Jews from Egypt and Turkey settled in Omdurman. The Messas family from Yemen, for example, established an office in Port Said in the late nineteenth century. With the ousting of the Mahdi in 1898 and the advent of the British-Egyptian administration in Sudan, more Jews settled in Omdurman, Khartoum, and Port Said. By 1908, the community is thought to have consisted of twenty families, led by Salomon Malka, although the community deferred to the Egyptian Rabbinates for issues of personal status. These initial families would later be joined by other Jews from the Arab world who were seeking economic opportunities in the 1920s, followed by  Ashkenazi Jews fleeing the Nazis in the 1930s. 

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Jewish children dressed up to celebrate the Purim holiday in Sudan, 1950. (c) Courtesy Tales of Jewish Khartoum

Most members of the Jewish community were engaged in trade and enjoyed a high standard of living. From a demographic perspective, the community was overwhelmingly Sephardi, and for the most part trilingual in Egyptian-Sudanese, Arabic, and English. In 1926, the Jewish community built Ohel Shelomo Synagogue on Victoria Street in Khartoum. It was named in honor of Sudan’s chief rabbi and could hold several hundred people—the entirety of the community. In the 1940s, the Jewish community acquired the land next to the synagogue and built a hall that acted as the social hub for the community, hosting youth activities, communal celebrations, conferences, and included a kosher cafeteria.  In addition to this, the community maintained two cemeteries. Despite these successes, the community was never able to establish a Jewish school as the majority of Jewish children attended bilingual Arabic/English missionaries and received religious education through the synagogue. Overall, the community represented a tightly knit group, which maintained ties with the Jewish communities that remained in the Arab world, and also supported the newly established State of Israel. 

Dissolution of the community 

It is thought that the Jewish community peaked in the mid 1950s. However, following Sudan gaining its independence and Israel’s invasions of the Sinai in 1956—both of which caused instability in the country  and led to antisemitic vitriol in the local Sudanese press—the Jewish community began to dissipate. Many Jews settled in Israel, while others settled in Europe and North America. Given the small size of the Sudanese community, their history is largely unknown. However, small pockets of Jewish life across Israel and the Diaspora still celebrate their Sudanese Jewish heritage, and are working to preserve it for future generations. 

The wedding of Sudanese Jews Gabi and Lina Eleini in a Khartoum synagogue (1958) (c) GABI & LINA TAMMAN
The wedding of Sudanese Jews Gabi and Lina Eleini in a Khartoum synagogue (1958) (c) GABI & LINA TAMMAN