Today, the majority of Sudanese Jews live in Israel, America, England and Switzerland. They remain united by their memories, experiences, and identities formed in Sudan.

The Early Community

In 1820, the Ottoman Empire conquered most of Sudan from its base in Egypt. The subsequent rule was characterised by harsh taxes and numerous attempts to suppress the slave trade in the region. By 1881, the country was ready for change. Muḥammad Ahmed emerged as a rebel leader and self-styled al-Mahdi [the guided one] and in 1885 his forces famously defeated the British Governor-General Charles Gordon at Khartoum. As part of their reforms for the country, the Mahdi and his successor, the Khalifa, demanded that all the Christians and the few Jews living in the country convert to Islam. The converts later became known as the Masalma.

In 1898, 13 years after the Masalma laws were passed, British forces entered Sudan and the country became an Anglo-Egyptian Condominium. The laws enforcing Islam were revoked and most of the Masalma, including 36 Jews, returned to their previous faiths. It is unknown how many Jewish families were amongst the Masalma and the descendants decided to remain Muslim, and of others who continued to practise a form of secret Judaism, are still living in Sudan today.

As the invading British Army advanced it built a railway and once the country was under colonial rule, this railway became key for trade and travel into and out of Khartoum. Whilst the journey to Egypt had previously been long and arduous, it could now be made in less than two days. Sudan became an attractive prospect for merchants wishing to make their fortune. From 1900, Jews from all over the Middle East and North Africa began to arrive in Sudan via Cairo and settle along the Nile in the four towns of Khartoum, Khartoum North, Omdurman and Wad Madani. Predominantly small-time merchants of textiles, silks, and gum; their businesses soon began to flourish.

Life in Sudan

In 1926, the Jewish community opened a brand-new purpose-built synagogue on one of the most central boulevards in Khartoum, then called Victoria Street. The community remained under the auspices of the Egyptian Beth-Din and Rabbi Malka, who had arrived in Sudan several years earlier and additionally served as the mohel and shochet. In 1944 the Jewish Recreational Club opened, it quickly became the centre of an active social scene.

The Jewish community in Sudan reached its peak population between 1930 and 1950, at a very generous estimate, no more than one thousand Jews were living in Sudan. Business partnerships were made, friendships formed, and the Jewish community lived a peaceful, integrated, cosmopolitan life.

Leaving Sudan

In 1948, the State of Israel was established. A small number of the poorest members of Sudan’s Jewish community went to seek their fortune in this new country. In 1956, Sudan gained independence, but it was not until the Suez Crisis later that year that antisemitic incidents began to rise. Jews were framed for serious crimes and later proved innocent, newspapers began falsely accusing prominent Jewish people of being spies, and rhetoric on the streets began to change. At this point, a number of Jewish families, predominantly those who did not own businesses, began to leave the country.

From 1958, Sudan was under the military dictatorship of General Abboud. In 1964, after a series of protests, a civilian government was formed. This new government quickly allied itself with General Nasser in Egypt and began to regard Jews in an increasingly hostile light. It became difficult for Jewish people to obtain exit visas or travel freely, more Jewish families left the country often on the pretence of a holiday.

In spring of 1967, the Six-Day War broke out and shortly afterwards the Arab League convened in Khartoum. Sudanese newspapers advocated the torture and murder of prominent Jewish people. Young Jewish young men in Khartoum were imprisoned and interrogated for days at a time on bogus charges, or without any reason at all. Jewish families left Sudan hastily, often taking only a suitcase and arriving as stateless persons in Israel and Switzerland. By the end of 1967, only a handful of Jews were left in Sudan with most living outside the capital of Khartoum.

In 1969, Colonel Nimeiri led a successful military coup, and in 1970 all banks and businesses were nationalised. However, it was not until 1973 that the last Jews left Sudan following the murder of foreign diplomats in Khartoum by Palestinian gunmen. The Victoria Street synagogue was sold and converted into a bank. The building was demolished just over a decade later. The Jewish cemetery in Khartoum was abandoned.

The Community Today

In 1977, 17 of the graves in the Jewish cemetery at Khartoum were airlifted and reburied in Jerusalem. Many more graves remain in Sudan, but only 14 have whole or partial remaining headstones. The community’s ten Torah scrolls were salvaged and are now homed in synagogues frequented by the former Jews of Sudan.

Today, the majority of Sudanese Jews live in Israel, America, England and Switzerland. On their way to these countries they settled in many places, building up their businesses and learning their trades. However, they remain a close-knit community, always ready to welcome each other into their homes and offer support in times of need. They remain united by their memories, experiences, and identities formed in Sudan.


This story has been contributed from the Tales of Jewish Sudan project. Tales of Jewish Sudan is a collection of stories, photos and recipes of the Sudan Jewish community, established by Daisy Abboudi. Daisy is a historian and an expert in the Jewish community of Sudan. The stories of this unique community in Sudan inspired her to create the website Tales of Jewish Sudan in 2015. More content from Tales of Jewish Sudan can be viewed in the Sudan Memory website collections. For more information on Tales of Jewish Sudan visit

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