National Library showcases Benghazi Haggada

On the eve of World War II, 30,387 Jews lived in Libya – today there are none.

The Haggada, now on display at the National Library (photo credit: Courtesy)
The Haggada, now on display at the National Library
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A Haggada used at a Seder in Benghazi in 1943 is on display for the first time at the National Library, as part of a new exhibition of some two dozen nontraditional Haggadot made between 1940 and 1948.
The exhibition aims to reflect the parallels between the story of Passover and the realities lived by Jews in the years leading up to the establishment of the State of Israel.
The Benghazi Haggada was printed by Jewish volunteers from Palestine in the British Army on the back of documents left behind by the retreating Fascist Italian forces.
On the eve of World War II, 30,387 Jews lived in Libya – today there are none.
Under Italian rule, Libyan Jews lived relatively well until the Fascist authorities adopted the “Race Protection Laws,” which restricted the civil rights of Jews. This pushed the Jews to lose faith in the Italian government and to support the British instead.
In 1942, Mussolini launched a “sfollamento” (evacuation) campaign to remove Libyan Jews. Many were sent to concentration camps and some to labor camps
The city of Benghazi was conquered, lost and re-conquered by the Axis and the Allies several times during the course of the war and was finally recaptured by the British Army at the end of 1942.
“The meeting of the Benghazi Jews, who had survived the hell of the war and the concentration camps, along with the soldiers of the Jewish Legion, most of them volunteers from the Hebrew Yishuv, came to a symbolic head during the Passover Seder of 1943,” reads a blog post published by the National Library.
The Haggada was put together by the 403rd Transport Unit and the 53rd Logistics Unit, according to the military journal of Rabbi Ephraim Elimelech Urbach who led the 600 participants in the Seder, comprising of Jewish community members and Jewish Legion soldiers as well as Canadian, American, British, and Australian soldiers.
In order to gather enough paper to make the required amount of Haggadot for the Seder, the writers and editors took telegrams and other letterheads from the offices of Libyan authorities. On the backs of these scraps of paper they printed the Haggada with a typewriter and copied them with a Mimeograph machine.
Urbach recorded the events of the evening in his journal:
“At exactly a quarter past eight, we entered the hall. It was a wonderful sight to see all the soldiers, from every service, and from all the armies fighting for the Allies, sitting at the tables. At the officers’ table sat 45 people, 12 of them American. When I stood and gave the signal to begin, a great quiet descended in the hall. I started in English and finished in Hebrew. I blessed the guests and thanked the hosts. I spoke of celebrating liberty, the destruction of the people of Israel in the Diaspora, and the hope this holiday holds, especially the fact that we had the privilege of celebrating it in a place from which Jews had been banished only a year ago."