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By Phil Hall | April 12, 2012

The “longest kiss in history” refers to the point in Sudan where the Blue Nile meets the White Nile. Why French filmmaker Frédérique Cifuentes Morgan included this riparian trivia in the title of her new documentary is not certain, since neither Nile has much to do with the subject of the rise and fall of Sudan’s Jewish population.

Originally consisting of eight families that immigrated to the region during the Turkish-Egyptian rule in the 1870s, the Jewish community remained relatively small (it never exceeded 1,000 members) and was primarily concentrated in the capital city of Khartoum. Sudan’s Jewish population grew primarily via immigration, mostly by Sephardic Jews, and many individuals found success in commerce and in administrative positions within the 20th century British colonial government. Anti-Semitism was relatively rare – the community never faced danger during World War II, and a special arrangement with Catholic schools offered educational opportunities for Jewish youth.

However, Sudanese independence in 1956 and the new republic’s focus on pan-Arab fellowship created an unpleasant environment, and by the 1960s the Jews of Sudan emigrated to Israel, Europe and the U.S. In 1977, the exiled Jewish community made arrangements with the Sudanese government to transfer the bodies from Khartoum’s Jewish cemetery for reburial in other countries.

The film is rich with interviews of many Sudan-born Jews who reflect with rueful happiness on their lives in pre-independent Sudan. Some of these recollections come across as fostering nostalgia for European colonial occupation while being condescending to Sudan’s indigenous population – one individual blithely dismisses the culture of the black rural villages as “primitive.” In retrospect, the community’s exodus from Sudan may have been a blessing in disguise – in the past several decades, Sudan has collapsed into a social and economic disaster that bears no resemblance to the orderly world recalled in this film.

Despite its flaws, this production gives a unique view of a little-known corner where Jewish and African histories intermingled.

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