In cooperation with the Dom community of Jerusalem, the Dom Research Center is offering this photographic presentation to readers interested in the Gypsies of the Middle East & North Africa. All proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to the Jerusalem community to support the development of a community center and its projects. In addition to the photographs, legends of their origin and other basic ethnographic information are included in the book.
To Order Your Copy send a check or bank draft for $20 in the
name of the Dom Research Center (US Dollars only) to:
Dom Research Center
P.O. Box 42206
Your book and receipt will be sent to you upon receipt of
payment. For further information email to
Thank you for supporting the Dom of Jerusalem.
The origin of the Gypsy people was traced to India in the 18th century,
when links were discovered between dialects of Romany and Punjabi. Gypsies of
India originally refered to themselves by the term "Dom", meaning "man" in their language.
While in other Gypsy communities the word transformed into "Rom" or "Lom", the word
Dom is still used by Gypsies of the Middle East and North Africa. Other names used
to designate Gypsies in the Middle East are Barake, Nawar, Kaloro, Koli, Kurbat, Ghorbati, Zott,
and Zargari, although some of these names refer to specific tribes, and some are derogatory.
Today there are Dom communities existant in countries such as Cyprus,
Afghanistan, Uzbekistan/Tadjikistan, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan,
Israel/Gaza/the West Bank,
The Gypsy people are thought to have left India in several migratory
waves, beginning possibly as early as the 3rd centry and lasting until the 10th century.
There are several theories explaining the initial migration from India, although there
is little definitive proof. The Persian poet Firdousi in his epic "Shah-Name" tells that Shah of Persia invited from India
ten thousand of musicians and dancers of the Luri tribe to work at his court. These people are
believed to have belonged to a low caste of indigenous people (non Indo-Aryans) who were known for their skills in music
and dance. (It's interesting to know that the Luri tribe still exists in India,where they continue to make their living in the same way!)
In the 11th century, India was under the attack of a TurkoPersian Muslim general, whose aim was to push
Islam into India. Indian troups were formed out of various non-Aryan Indian populations,
consisting of the lower "castes" of society). These troups moved West through the mountain
passes out of India and into Persia, battling the Muslim forces. It is very likely that Gypsy
tribes (such as the Luri) figured as a great percentage of these foot soldiers, and it would make
sense that they decided to keep moving West instead of returning to India, where
they had most likely suffered discrimination. Gypsies stayed for long periods of time in
Persia, eventually moving onwards to places such as Armenia and Greece. Some migrated through
the Caucasus mountains to Turkey and the Balkans, finally arriving in Europe, while others
went to Syria and Egypt and finally North Africa.
Click here for the map of the first Gypsy immigrations.
The Dom themselves have additional ideas regarding their original
patterns of migration.
For example, there is a theory that the Dom came to Israel from Syria
the famous warrior Salah-ad-Din, fighting against the Crusaders in the
11th century. Some
Dom maintain that they were living in Syria as early as the Jahiliyya
period, even before
the arrival of Islam in the 7th century.
Amongst the Dom of Jerusalem,
there is a legend explaining their origin:
There were once two tribes living in Syria, led by two cousins.
One cousin, upon killing the King of Syria, aroused the wrath of the
King's daughter. By way
of revenge, the King's daugher turned the two tribes against each
other, eventually causing a
war between the tribes and the death of both cousins. When the
fighting ended, a decree was
passed against the tribes: they must always wander in the wilderness
during the hottest hours
of the day, ride only donkeys, and live only off of singing and dance.
From there some Dom
traveled to India, while others travelled to Iraq and even back to
The next information about the history of the Dom comes from travel
literature of the 18th - 19th centuries, a period in which many pilgrims and travellers noticed the
presence of Gypsies throughout the Middle East.
This document contains evidence that the Gypsies lived in Jerusalem in the beginning of the XIXth century.
Near the Lions' gate in Jerusalem, behind the ancient wall of the
Old City, there is
the neigborhood in which the Dom community still abides. Today the
Gypsy community of
Jerusalem consists of approximately one thousand people. Gypsies also
still live in Judea,
Samarea, Gaza and the West Bank.
Prior generations of Dom were nomadic traveling from village to village, from town to town.
Their initial occupations were the same as of all Gypsies around the
world - they were blacksmiths, horsedealers, musicians, dancers, animal
For over one hundred years the Jerusalem Gypsies have been living a more
sedentary lifestyle. Originally they settled in the Wadi Joz
neighborhood in East Jerusalem. Later the community moved within the walls of the Old City, to the
Migdal Ha Chasidah neighborhood where they still reside today.
As did the Gypsies in other countries the Jerusalem Dom accepted the
language and religion of the places where they lived; they are Moslems and speak Arabic as
well as Domari - their own language.
However, the numbers of Dom in Israel have been
greatly reduced: while some left the country during the wars and
disturbances preceding the foundation of modern Israel, the greatest immigrations occured after
the 6 days war of 1967. At this time the Jerusalem Dom suffered greatly,
hiding in the Church of St. Anne inside the Lions' Gate of Jerusalem's Old City for the
duration of the war.
The Dom who fled Israel immigrated to Jordan, Syria and Egypt,
returning only for short visits
if at all. These immigrations reduced the number of Dom from
approximately 200 families
before 1967, to 70 families in the '90s.
Many members of the Dom community, especially the younger generations,
are now less
interested in ancient traditions and culture, and prefer to assimilate
into the neighboring Arab
communities. The Domari language is used less and less, as are
traditional dress and other
customs that would make the Dom stand out as such. This is
understandable, considering the
discrimination they have suffered at the hands of both Arabs and Jews,
and the lack of
opportunities open to them in the work-force due to the illiteracy and
lack of formal education
which have traditionally been part of the Gypsy lifestyle.
In order to raise pride and
cultural awareness within the Dom community as well as the awareness of
the non-Gypsy population, in October, 1999 Miss Amoun Sleem established the nonprofit
organization - "Domari: The Society of Gypsies in Jerusalem". This was an event of
historic importance, in the sense that it is the first time any community of Dom has
organized itself into an entity. We hope that the Society will succeed in its aims to improve the
opportunities for all the members of the community, and to educate non-Gypsies about the
existence of this fascinating community.
Compiled by Ilia Mazia and Rachel Valfer.
Stories from a Gypsy Woman, Part 1
(first published in Kuri - online journal of the Dom Research Center)
Like any community in the world the Gypsies have their own special lifestyle which is different than other people. The Gypsies live "day-to-day" and don't really want to change this style of living. They like to live close to each other. They believe that this gives them power and they should stay together as one big family. So for many years the Gypsies lived close to one another. Due to this lifestyle the Dom have stayed in the same basic area for years. If you try to change this many Dom people will be sad and say, "you are trying to change your skin! This is the Dom way of life!"
The Dom people have lived in Israel a long time. They were here during the time that the Turkish people lived in Israel. Even with this long history in the land, many things have changed. The number of the Dom has changed. Most recently during the Israeli-Jordanian war many Dom left Israel and went to Jordan. Others went to various countries throughout the Middle East such as Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Turkey and Egypt. The Dom are a peace loving people. They never think about power and promoting themselves. Because of this they are not influential outside their community, they don't involve themselves in wars or political fighting. Even with their peaceful ways, every year their numbers dwindle. In and around Jerusalem there are about 1,200 Dom. That number includes Jerusalem and the West Bank. This is a small population compared with the number of Dom in the years gone by. In addition to people moving away from the area, there have been numerous deaths. The people believe that their lives are tied to living and dying in Jerusalem. At one time the people would run away from their homes if they feared political problems or wars. But now, they have begun to believe that they must stand up for their place and protect their homes. This is a change from the time when the people were nomadic and could move easily. Today many have settled into houses. But their problems are not over. Most Dom struggle to pay their rent and often have trouble with landlords who may put them out even if they do pay their rent. Since the Dom are passive people they are often the victims of such actions.
The years of my childhood were the best years of my life. Like many other Dom, I think the years gone by were the "Golden Years." My father told me about the different jobs my people had in the past. They earned their living by making many things with their hands such as weaving reed mats. Others were tinkers, played music, sang and danced. Also, the men were skilled makers of sieves, drums and birdcages. At times there were those who entertained using animals, especially horses. The Dom love animals and they supplied an important use for us. My father told me that the men treated the horses like children and took great care with them. My grandfather had a horse that he took with him everywhere he went. Before my grandfather ate he would put food out for his horse. Within two weeks of my grandfather's death the horse also died. I believe the horse must have missed him.
Over the past fifty years many things have changed. The role of the Dom women in the community has always been important. At one time the women helped in the fields, made clothes for the family, sheared sheep, spun wool and told fortunes. After giving up the nomadic life the women continue to work hard both in the home and outside. Many of them work for other people such as Jewish families doing cleaning or in their shops. None of them have their own businesses; instead, they continue to live day-to-day. They give money little thought-it's the last thing they think about. They still have not learned to save money for the future. Even if a Dom man had money and a house he would still spend it freely thinking only about living for the day. The women, however, would like to make the family's life better. They often go to work at young ages in order to help their families. Because of this many of the young girls don't go to school so their education level is very low. This in turn creates a situation in which they are unable to get jobs where advancement is possible. Their lives are very difficult and they feel powerless to choose what is good for them. In fact, the family promotes the idea that girls should get a job rather than going to school.
In some families this attitude toward the girls is changing. Step by step the life of the Dom woman is improving. They still do not have many of the advantages of other women in the world, but slowly the future is opening up for them. Some have begun going to school and making their own choices about the future they want. They are getting good jobs and gaining the respect of others. Some have professional jobs such as nurses. In Jerusalem there are three Dom nurses working in different hospitals. Others are models and seamstresses. This change is not easy in a community that largely holds to the belief that a woman's work is in the home. The Dom men must also respect the changing roles of women in the world so that their women can find their place in the world. We believe that one day this will happen, but for now the change is slow.
Stories from a Gypsy Woman, Part 2 - Settlement in Jerusalem and the Surrounding Area
I am filled with joy as I write about the settlement of the Dom in Jerusalem. The interviews have been an exploration of my roots and a discovery of how my people have lived here all these years. Talking with my people and hearing their stories has been nice, but not all of the stories have been good. Some of the people were crying as they spoke about their past, about their families, and about their fathers and mothers. The past was not an easy part of their lives. But, I love to hear the stories and I am so proud of my people.
My people had to fight for their lives, not with armies, but with their love for the land that they had come to settle. All the people I interviewed said the Dom have lived in or around Jerusalem for more than 100 years. I spoke with Mr. Shahada who now lives in Amman, Jordan. He made a visit to Jerusalem and we had a nice conversation. He was proud to talk about his past. His family settled in Jerusalem about 100 years ago according to his father. Unfortunately, he could not remember his grandfather. But he believed that his family settled in Jerusalem more than 100 years ago. He belonged to the Nawasrah family. This family is a part of the very old roots of the Dom. He lived in "Malhah" in new Jerusalem now close to the Jerusalem Zoo. Many Dom lived there at that time. Before the Turkish armies were in Jerusalem the Dom lived there and had a comfortable way of life and they came into contact with many other groups of people. When the English were here some of the Dom had English passports. Even today some of the Dom living in Amman still have these passports. Mr. Shahada said that he wishes that old life would return. At that time they lived in old houses made from big stones and tents they made by hand. They made their food, their clothes, etc., themselves. When he started to talk about the problematic times I could feel the sadness inside him. He said when Israel was coming into the land they were very afraid. They all began to think about moving as soon as possible to Amman and about take their children and families. Many Dom from the Nawasrah family went to Amman. But others of the Dom stayed and are still living in the same places today. A lot of them said that if they were going to die it would be better to all die together. The Dom people were worried that any problems between the countries would be especially difficult for them since they didn't have any influence politically. Because of this many of the families didn't see one another for many years being divided by political boundaries. They were afraid to come back to Jerusalem even for a visit since they were enjoying the "arms of Amman." Since they didn't know what might happen to them if they returned to Jerusalem, they were afraid to return for a visit with their families who stayed. But now there is peace between Amman and Israel which means the time of worry is over and we can visit our family again.
I also interviewed a ninty (90) year old Dom woman named Asesah. She spoken a lot about her present problems and the troubles in her family. But, she also spoke about the old days when she had a good husband and she was happy. Her husband was a good man who she had never met until the night of their wedding. In that time, it was the custom that women could not see the man she would marry until the wedding night. Once my grandmother told me something I will never forget. "My young lady, you are very lucky that you were born in this time. You can say 'no' to a man and you can choose what you like. But in my time we didn't have any choice." But to go back to Asesah, it was funny and nice what she had to say. Asesah is one of the women who has lived in many different circumstances. She said that she grew up with her father and mother within the walls of the old city of Jerusalem. For about 35 years she lived in Berge Lack Lack (the Stork Alley) where her father had a three-room home that he opened to guests, both Dom and other people. They lived there until she married and moved in with her husband. She married at a very, very young age. Before the war between Amman and Israel she had four children. The time during the war was very difficult. All they could think about was saving themselves and their children. Because the times were so difficult about half of her family fled to Jordan. "It was a long time after they left before we found out if they were alive or had been killed." Those who stayed in the city have faced many trying times. Because of this they will probably stay here until they die. Many Dom still think of the Holy Land of Jerusalem as their home. Even with the bad times they dream about this place as their land.
Times were very hard for my people during the Six Days War[the Arab-Israeli war of June 5-10, 1967].
Near where they lived there was a church, the Church of St. Anne. It is located just inside the Lion's Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem. When the war started my family, and many other Gypsies as well, ran to the church and remained there throughout the war. They described those days as days they will never forget--days of worry and days of sadness as people were being killed, seemingly without regard for children or adults, men or women. For the Gypsies the war was like "days in hell." As I heard the stories I felt a sadness for the suffering my people experienced during that time.
My grandmother was a very brave woman. One day she jumped from the wall of St. Anne's Church and ran to my house to get some food and flour to make bread for the Gypsies inside the church. While she was away a missle fell on the church, but thank God no one was killed. My grandmother didn't know if her family was safe and she started to cry and sob very loudly. One of my uncles saw her and said, "don't worry, we are all okay. Hurry, come inside." Everyday she made her way to our house to make sure that no one broke in and robbed us as happened to many people's houses. During the war many poor people had no food and no way to get any. At night there was the sound of shooting and fighting. Because of this no one was allowed out on the streets. The church and the sisters there gave the people a place to stay and food. The church provided dried milk for the children. This was very important since my father had six very young children. The sisters shared their love with the people and helped them forget their problems. The Gypsies were also fortunate to have such a strong person like my grandmother to help them through these difficult times. Those six days were like six years for my community during the war. It was not a nice time for the Dom.
As everyone knows the most important things for a Gypsy are to eat well, dress well and to have a good place to live. Many years ago the Dom lived in a good place. They lived in the Wadi Goss in Jerusalem. At that time the area belonged to an Arab man. When he decided to leave and sell his land he asked my grandfather to buy the land, but my grandfather had some people living with him and felt that the money he had was needed to care for the guests. So, he couldn't buy the land. That was very sad for me to hear. Perhaps if he had been able to buy the land many things would be different for the Gypsies today. This land is some of the richest land around Jerusalem. So, the Gypsies have lived in some nice places during their years here. My family has some documents that show that they were here at least since 1920. There are other documents that the leader of the Dom has which show our presence here many years ago. Keeping and writing papers is one of the jobs of the Gypsy leader. He must write different papers such as wedding papers and birth papers. He has many such documents that show we are among the oldest people who now live in Jerusalem.