I had to take these photos quickly. A few days earlier, a policeman told me I could be arrested–or more specifically “taken away” if I photographed this two story home on Clemenceau street:
But the next day, the police kiosk (above right) was empty so I was able to get some quick shots.
Such low-rises are becoming a rarity in Beirut. Developers eyes probably light up when they see them;  they can be torn down and replaced with dozens of floors of sea-view luxury apartments and tens of millions of dollars in profits if not more.
While I was taking photos, a was woman sitting in traffic watching me asked if I knew who the house belonged to. When I shook my head, she said it was owned by Beatrice Levy, now in her 80s or 90s living in Paris.
The woman knew this because she said she lived just down the street and the two were neighbors.
Of course this fascinated me because I’ve written extensively about the Lebanese Jewish community, which now lives largely in exile.
To my surprise the woman had seen a piece I did for Al Jazeera on the topic (which I’m now adapting into a documentary film). She said all her neighbors and friends were Jewish when she was a kid and lamented their departure.
The Lebanese Jewish community is often thought to have been concentrated in the Jewish quarter of Wadi Abu Jamil and thus relatively isolated there. But the suggestion that many Jews lived among other Beirut communities in Clemenceau challenges that.
While talking to the woman in the middle of traffic, I noticed a police officer had appeared at the kiosk again.
I sensed he was not as bothered by my picture taking as the officer I encountered the previous day, so I continued:

What I’ve always loved about old Beirut buildings is the amount of craftsmanship that went into their stone and iron work.

From the gate designs to the grooves in the walls to the stone carved trim around windows…

It seemed contractors and architects prided themselves on these small details that would make every building unique.

Notice the column work on the first floor balcony:

The officer watched me taking photos. Did you know this house belonged to a Jewish family, I asked.

“Why not,” he said. “Many Jews lived throughout this neighborhood, even up the road,” he added pointing toward Kantari.

Like many old Beirut homes, the would-be Levy house — or Beit Levy in Arabic– is overgrown with brush; its gardens have probably gone untrimmed for decades.

I hope to learn more about Beit Levy from the woman I met in the street, who I plan to see again.

And if anyone can confirm or deny her account, or provide details about the building’s age, style or history, feel free to comment below or get in touch and I’ll update the post.

 

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12 comments
  1. I’m bothered by this new photo fascism in Lebanon where anyone with half an ounce of power orders you to stop taking photographs of public spaces. Even more stupidly, the other day I was taking a photo of a couch I liked at Home Center and the salesman told me that it’s forbidden. I told him that this is silly because I can find the same couch on their website. He insisted this is a management decision, even though his colleague on another floor did not mind it. I think it’s become a trend, with no real justification.

  2. It is frustrating Lama–I’ve experienced the same in shops. And it does feel like a paranoia, which I’ve noticed outside Lebanon as well. But public spaces are different. I wonder if there is any legal basis for challenging these restrictions.

    Most annoying is that politicians are claiming all spaces around them as security zones. But what right do they have to block public access and photography, particularly to heritage sites? What does the public gain from these restrictions and do they outweigh their cost?

    1. Restrictions are unfortunately only imposed on the civil pacifist people of Lebanon. Habib, I immensely enjoyed seeing your photos and reading your insightful article equally. Your article tells about my journey too every time I take a walk in old Beirut to discover some forgotten amazing beauty i.e. The Beirut Heritage. May God protect it from backwardness. Please keep up the good work, Habib, and keep us posted too!

  3. Very interesting, it is so important to keep those photos of our past in Beirut, in Wadi Abu Gamil area, the Starco center, the Alliance school, the Talmud Tora school, the Magen Avraham Synagogue, the Jewish Cemetery and some other Jewsih institutes.
    If anyone has old photos of the streets near the synagogue , i wish to see our home with its balcony. Dr. Isaac Balayla , isaac229@yahoo.com

  4. “But the next day, the police kiosk (above right) was empty so I was able to get some quick shots.” – perfect common sense ;p

  5. Dear Habib, I wanted to first thank you for all your hard work touching on subjects completely taboo in Lebanon (and the region, for that matter.) Your posts are a joy to read thank you for all that you do to preserve and protect ancient ruins fast being replaced by concrete jungles.
    Lebanese Jewry is a very important subject for me and I actually shot a documentary between 2005 and 2007 during my final years living in Lebanon. The Lady or protagonist of my documentary (Lisa, who lived in Wadi Abu Jmil- tried to find her years later but to no avail as WAJ is now one major construction site) mentioned this house to me. She explained to me that many affluent Lebanese Jewish families opted to invest in land/property in neighbouring Clemenceau sometime in the late 50s early 60s due to space limitations in WAJ. One of the family names she mentioned was Levy so I do believe the above is quite plausible.

    There’s another Gentleman I had interviewed in Achrafieh, secular from a prominent Jewish Beiruti family. I wish I could recall his name or exact address but he too had a lot of interesting stories about several abandoned mansions in Beirut previously inhabited or built by prominent Jewish families.

    I’m really excited about the Synagogue restoration project. Unfortunately I was barred entry on site a few weeks ago during a very brief visit. I’m sad to see a lot of the buildings in that area torn down though – mainly the Talmudic school 🙁

    Keep up the hard work Habib!

    H

  6. Thanks! What happened to your film, can we see it somewhere?

    Sadly, Lisa passed away not long after my article was published by Al Jazeera (linked in the post). I’ll never forget our lunches together.

  7. Hi MR. HABIB BATTAH Sir, i had the pleasure of reading and looking at your photos on Beit LEVY subject. very intriguing one too, sorry about what difficulties you endured through it by the authorities. it s a shame.. well things as such can happen in the best families (as the Arabic saying mentions ?!). I send you this humble message of mine as an Armenian born in Beirut/Lebanon 1947 and grew up in a humble flat at Maarad Street ,close to the LEB. s Parliament house . in fact i can see the bldg. in your photo titled Author: Habib Battah article?? till 1959 then moved to Khandaq Al Ghamiq (Bashoura/Basta ) district till 1976, 1979 arrived in Great Britain/LONDON where still i am.. today ! i was always close to Bab Edriss/Kantari/Rue Clemenceau/George Piccots areas , due to my school s location there i mean the Armenian Evangelical Col./Haigazian Uni. Mexique Streeet all these were my playgrounds in my Childhood+teenage years and had many precious sweet memories… UNFORGETTABLE to this day ! On my way with my classmates in 1955 /1957 /58 before the civil disturbances began and lasted for 6 /7 months??? the country saved by the late General Fouad Chehab. me and my mates used to pass through Wadi bu Jamil..my mates used to harass our age Jewish pupils ( the GIRLS )coming up the long stone- staircase that connected their ALIANCE mixed school to the main road..there. i always tried to stop such mal behaviour but..failed! i still remember Patisserie Harlequin SWEET cake shop also GARAGE Fernand or ferdinand gas station there also street level house windows and saw rooms full of hanged laundry .. & daily!! i say all this to put you in the picture of how life then was simple and tranquil..and worth living however the circumstances without forgetting to mention our saluts to the soldiers guarding Ex President Mr.Camille Chamoun s pres.palace then..tooo many such trivial souvenirs which today became part of my life s journey,never to be repeated or altered..but remembered and cherished! God bless you sir for your good work! and thank you indeed for your val,time reading all this please keep in touch

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