While researching for my book L’Homme du Sérail (“The Jewish little Pasha of Jerusalem), I read thousands of these very moving letters sent by teachers and directors from all over the Orient and North Africa, and even the States. The idea came to me to reveal to the public this incredible description of daily life before the Second World War in each of the main capitals around the Mediterranean Sea and in Middle East, through the letters of the heads of the schools of the Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU)/ World Alliance of Israelites. The chess-game of the Great Powers, the creation of new frontiers by England, the creation of a new world order with the American assertion of people’s rights to self-determination…in essence, most of the roots of current conflicts emerge before us.
A snapshot of the world at the dawn of XXth century : Africa Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Ethiopia ; Europe Constantinople, Salonica, Bulgaria ; Asia Baghdad, Mosul, Damascus, Aleppo, Jerusalem, Mikveh-Israël near Tel Aviv ; the States, with Mr Nissim in New York.
« In this remarkable book, the author tells the story of the Alliance Israélite Universelle, a real pedagogical and humanist Saga, whose influence was huge. Founded in 1860 in Paris, it created hundreds of schools around the Mediterranean Sea and far beyond, in order to give to young Jews all the facilities offered by the universal values of French Republic. The extreme richness of the book mostly rests in the extensive use of Archives and in quotations of the letter of this missi dominici of the culture. In dreadful conditions of insecurity, but with an unbelievable enthusiasm, this true armada of ‘Jewish Consuls’ opened schools, with a pedagogy of universality based on both Judaism and French Laicity. Thousands of children have been grateful to the Alliance for having escaped a dark fate, and for gaining access to the modern world. From Mogador to Ispahan, from Sofia to Cairo and of course in Palestine, men and women devoted themselves to the task.[…] Three schools with 680 pupils and students, in 1865. They would be 48 000, in 127 institutions in 1939.An extremely fascinating and moving book. » Dominique Bourel, Culture de France en Israël, March-April 2000.
« In her eighth book, E. Antébi is as one with her heroes, she has enriched the gallery of portraits and given us back the keys of a world that we believed lost. You will measure how cruel such a loss is. […] Telling the story of twenty four men and women, in few words, Elizabeth Antébi scans a century, and, from New York to Central Asia, half of the planet.» Pierre Chaunu de l’Institut, Le Figaro, December 28, 1999.
« The author gives us striking and authentic portraits of people who could be the stars of ‘Eastern westerns’. Their own (amazing)story is immersed in the big History. There is, for example, David Sasson describing the slaughter before his own eyes of Armenians, and also, Joseph Néhama (1880-1971) in Salonica, during the horrific deportations and murders of the terrible Aloïs Brunner. It’s an unestimable source of documentation.» L’Arche, January 2000.
« The French Republic called its teachers « Black Hussars » - AIU had had its own Hussars too. They were the missi dominici of a Liberal Judaism and of a French culture seen as an emanation of the Light and a catalyst for Progress. Therefore, risking their lives, they taught French in the Balkans, in North Africa, even throughout the Middle-East. Through twenty portraits, E. Antébi pays homage to them, as having permitted assimilation to take place.» Rémi Kauffer, Le Figaro Magazine, November 13, 1999.