Seventy years since the great ‘aliya’ from Iraq

Born Farouk Sayig in Baghdad, Baruch Meiri was one of the 120,000 Jews airlifted to Israel from Iraq seventy years ago. He has not let poverty and the difficult conditions his family experienced on arrival in Israel deter him from fulfilling his aspirations.”Don’t let the world tell you that you can’t do something – just do it,” he says. The Media Line reports: (with thanks: Lisette):
Born in 1940 in Baghdad, Baruch Meiri was the eighth of nine children. Like tens of thousands of other Jews living there, Meiri and his family escaped from Iraq as part of a mass exodus that saw some 130,000 Jews airlifted to Israel via Iran and Cyprus from 1950 to 1952, in Operation Ezra and Nehemiah.
An Iraqi law mandated that they had to renounce their citizenship and could never return. “I was 10 years old,” Meiri said. “We took a taxi to the airport and I remember that there was a very long line at the entrance. We barely had anything on us – no money or gold – because we didn’t have anything.
“We flew on one of the first flights out from Baghdad to Cyprus,” he continued. “But the plane had a mechanical issue and we stayed in Cyprus for an additional two days before getting to Israel.”
Baruch Meiri (in the sailor suit) with two of his siblings (photo: The Media Line)
Operation Ezra and Nehemiah came after years of violence and persecution. Nazi propaganda during World War II and rising Iraqi nationalism stoked anti-Semitic sentiment in the country during the 1940s, with the hatred reaching a fever pitch shortly after Meiri was born during the Farhud, a violent event that took place on June 1-2, 1941.
The Farhud was a Nazi-inspired pogrom that broke out in Baghdad over the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. Hundreds of Jews were killed or raped and 1,000 injured, though exact casualty figures remain unclear.
“During the pogroms, my parents fled to the house of the neighbors, who were community leaders,” Meiri said, recalling the event and his Muslim neighbors. “My mother managed to save our family.”
Growing up, Meiri’s family was very poor. In order to make some extra pocket money, the young Farouk bought a few cucumbers at the local market and began selling them to other schoolchildren at a profit. In this way, he was able to buy sweets and pastries for himself. “I learned to become self-reliant,” Meiri said. “Don’t let the world tell you that you can’t do something, just do it.”
“This is how I acted when we immigrated to Israel as well and we were in a transit camp, a place that later became Or Yehuda,” a city in central Israel, he added. The newly arrived immigrants to Israel were all given new names when they were sent to live in a transit camp. Farouk Sayig became Baruch Meiri.
Due to the large influx of Jewish immigrants pouring into the nascent state of Israel, which had only been established a few years prior in 1948, conditions at the transit camps were very poor. The camps also referred to as ma’abarot, were meant to be a temporary shelter for lack of better housing options.
They were marred by poor sanitation, overcrowding, and limited supplies of water and electricity. The majority of immigrants inside Meiri’s camp were Iraqis, however freshly arrived Turkish and Libyan Jewish families also lived in the Or Yehuda camps. In the winter of 1951, Israel suffered its harshest winter in a century, making life in the ma’abarot particularly unbearable.
“The tent, which was our house, drifted into the Ayalon River and we were left with nothing,” he recounted. “Big trucks came and took all the children in the camp to Givat Brenner, a kibbutz. Every winter, for three months, we would be sent away from our parents to this kibbutz.”
The Meiri family was upgraded to more permanent lodging a few years later and Baruch’s father, who had been a jeweler back in Iraq, was sent to work as a farmer, an area in which he had no experience.
For his part, at 16 years old Baruch Meiri got his first serious job working as a newspaper delivery boy for Maariv, one of Israel’s most important daily newspapers. He would later rise up in the ranks of the paper and became the manager of Maariv’s Jerusalem branch.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

About

This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.

Point of No Return

Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

One-stop blog on the Middle East's
forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.