Month: November 2021

On 30 November, let us learn the lessons of the exodus

Today is 30 November, the date designated by the Israeli Knesset to mark the 20th century departure and exodus of Jews from Arab countries and Iran and the destruction of their communities. Many commemorative events are being held around the world at this time. We highlight three of the many articles which have appeared in the press to mark one the end of this 2,600-year old chapter in Jewish history – and the start of a new one:

Jewish children from Libya resettled in Israel
Learning about Middle Eastern and North African Jews can help solve Jewish challenges (David A Dangoor – Jerusalem Post)
When the law to create a Day to Mark the Departure and Expulsion of Jews from the Arab Countries and Iran to be commemorated annually on November 30th was passed in the Knesset plenum in 2014, there was great excitement and expectation, especially among Jews from those countries which in total make up nearly a third of global Jewry.
Nonetheless, in the seven years since the passage of the law, it is clear that the event remains very much unknown and un-commemorated by the vast majority of Jews in Israel and the Diaspora.
Worse still, one of the central components of the law, that Jews in Israel and around the world would learn about the history, culture and subsequent expulsion of the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) goes unfulfilled.
Apart from a worthy effort by Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA), a nonprofit organization headquartered in San Francisco, there has been little or no attempt at formalizing a curriculum to educate students of all ages on the heritage and history of MENA Jews.
Unfortunately, at almost every global Jewish educational institution, Jewish history means European Jewish history, Jewish culture means Ashkenazi culture, and almost every event to discuss Jewish global challenges is absent a voice representing MENA Jews.
Even in the current discourse of pluralism and widening the Jewish tent to include multiple Jewish identities, MENA Jews remain conspicuously absent outside of their own institutions. The global Jewish conversation remains limited by their absence.
The global Jewish narrative remains minimally European in context and exclusionary to those whose history and heritage remain outside of the continent.
Even Zionism is still taught as a purely European modern project, unfortunately leaving room for anti-Israel voices to make the inaccurate and defamatory assertions that it is colonial or imperialist in nature. There is no mention of the millennia of practical Zionists from the non-Ashkenazi world, including the Ramban, Dona Gracia Mendes Nasi and rabbis Yehuda Bibas and Judah Alkalai, from whom, through his grandfather, Theodore Herzl would later adopt the idea of a practical and physical restoration of sovereignty in the indigenous and ancestral Jewish homeland.
The Jews of MENA did not need to learn of a modern Zionism, because it was a constant theme throughout their Diaspora. There was no firewall for many Jews of the Sephardi and Mizrahi world between the fulfillment of religious prophecy and the practical ideas of sovereignty, self-determination and statehood.
Added to this, is the moderation and flexibility of MENA rabbinical leaders from antiquity to the modern era, which chose a communitarian Judaism over an individual, and a commitment to the balance inherent in the Maimonidean “Golden Mean” of a Judaism which sits comfortably eschewing extremes.
These and many other aspects of MENA Jewish history, culture and tradition are vital more than ever.
Learning about them and understanding their worldview would undoubtedly help us meet many of the issues facing the Jewish world today, whether Israel-Diaspora relations, tensions between the religious and secular and global Jewish solidarity.
There is much in the MENA Jewish experience and worldview of value for 21st-century global Jewish challenges.
Moreover, commemorating the day is an important act of solidarity.
Jews from the MENA region have for too long been thought of as the “other Jews” as Prof. Daniel Elazar once described Jews of Mediterranean, Western Asian or African descent. This othering has led to myths that Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews are somehow “backward,” “superstitious” or “medieval.”
These myths about communities that were, in reality, cosmopolitan, highly educated and worldly, and rational in their outlook, perpetuate ongoing prejudices.
Education, clarity and the study of MENA Jewry would clear up these problematic myths and bring our people, as a whole, closer together. The more one understands each other and our different but equal experiences and histories, the more we can build a better future.

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Yom HaGirush: the inside story of Expulsion Day (Edwin Black – syndicated to 35 media outlets)

In June 2015, I and a group of committed communal leaders were able to do what many memory-seared families called the impossible: proclaim International Farhud Day at the United Nations in a historic event globally livestreamed by the U.N. itself.

But I always wanted to do more and give identity and homage to the mass expulsion. This month, with the support of my colleagues in many countries, on a special edition of “The Edwin Black Show,” I proclaimed Nov. 30 forever more to be a day of remembrance named “Yom HaGirush.”

That name, Yom HaGirush, marks when Jewish communities across many countries were once again dispossessed, but became repossessed in the free nation of Israel. The Jewish state now possesses these people and their descendants—and they in turn now possess their Jewish state. Possession is nine-tenths of survival. Israel has become the final stop for the Jews.

From Morocco to India, and from Yemen to Afghanistan, the lives and centuries of legacies were incinerated. It was done in broad daylight with barely a murmur from the world.

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Remembering the troubled yet rich history of Jews in Arab lands (Avi Benlolo – National Post, Canada)

Despite the fact Jews were scattered in Arab-dominant lands for more than 2,000 years, their rich history has been mostly silent. However, attention to their plight has gained momentum in the past several years, culminating in the naming of Nov. 30 as an official memorial day to mark their expulsion and departure from Arab countries and Iran. The date was chosen for symbolic reasons as it was soon after the Nov. 29, 1947, United Nations announcement of a partition plan for Israel and an Arab state, that Jews in neighbouring Arab and Persian countries started to experience hostility there.

With the establishment of the Jewish State of Israel in 1948, Arab nationalism and anti-Semitism increased and Jews living in Muslim-majority nations had little choice but to flee. While German Nazism inspired and emboldened violence against Jewish communities between 1940-1945 in Arab-majority lands, the soil was fertile for Arab states to turn against their own Jewish citizens once the declaration for an independent Jewish state had been made in Tel Aviv.

Thus came about the beginning of the end of an incredible and rich history. Palestinians often claim that 1948 was the “nakba” for their descendants. But what is often ignored is that over one million Jews living in Arab lands would also experience their own “catastrophe” that has never been acknowledged or compensated. They became refugees overnight — uprooted from their homes and communities. Most found refuge in the fledgling State of Israel, while others moved to France, Canada and America.

Their communities, families and cultures were shattered into a million pieces. To put this devastation into perspective, some 265,000 Moroccan Jews left behind their homes; 140,000 Algerian and 105,000 Tunisian Jews locked up their ancient synagogues and cemeteries; 75,000 Egyptian and 135,000 Iraqi Jews closed their schools and businesses; 63,000 Yemeni Jews were airlifted to Israel; and Syrian, Lebanese, Persian, Turkish and Libyan Jews made their dangerous trek to Israel on barges and across deserts.

Despite the fact that many Jews from Arab lands were educated professionals, they faced hardship and often times discrimination in Israel. My own grandparents, having lived a modern, well-heeled cosmopolitan life in Casablanca and having been educated in the Alliance French school system, were sent to a refugee camp in the southern city of Ashkelon. In one of his last letters before passing away from an illness at the young age of 46, my grandfather, Emile Azoulay, spoke of his daily challenges adapting to his new life.

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Montreal 30 November Commemoration at the Spanish

London 30 November Commemoration

Yad Vashem refuses to re-instate Mufti

Before it was re-designed,  Yad Vashem  once displayed a floor-to-celing photo of  Hitler meeting the Mufti of Jerusalem. The photo disappeared.  Shalom Pollack requested that the new chairman of the museum, Dani Dayan, re-instate the photo:  he refused. Read the saga so far on Israel National News:

The famous picture of Hitler meeting the Mufti was taken down

Husseini was the powerful patriarch of the leading Arab clan in Palestine in the first half of the twentieth century. He used his political power and religious influence for his life’s motif – the murder of Jews.

In an attempt to “mainstream” the Mufti of Jerusalem ” the British appointed him to an official position of power and responsibility.It did not work. It only gave him the platform and prestige to pursue his passion of killing Jews.

This he accomplished on numerous occasions, most notably by instigating the barbaric Hebron massacre of dozens of Jewish families in 1929. (Note: in 1929, there was no Zionist “apartheid occupation”, no “occupied territories” nor “settlers”; just Jews of all ages living in Hebron and horriblly killed by their neighbors)

A Nazi sympathizer, he fled British controlled Palestine during the war. He led a Nazi coup in Irag where he instigated the bloody “Farhud” pogrom against the Jewish community of Iraq.

He then fled to Germany where he was made an honorary SS general by Himmler and proceeded to do all he could in helping the Hitler regime kill Jews. He addressed the Arab world by radio from Berlin winning huge support for the Nazis. He raised divisions of Muslim that fought in the Nazi army. One of their tasks was to guard so that Jews do not escape the trains to death camps.

Husseini intervened in a deal that would have saved a train load of Jewish children for a bribe. Husseini would not allow one Jewish child to escape the gas chambers.

Together with Himmler he visited the death camps and drew plans to build a “facility” in the Dotan valley in Samaria where the half million Jews of Palestine would be gassed as soon as Rommel defeated the British. Eichmann was quoted as saying: “I am a personal friend of the Grand Mufti. We have promised that no European Jew would enter Palestine any more.”

After the war, SS general Husseini found refuge in Syria from war crimes judgment. Wherever he appeared in the Arab world he was received as a hero and mentor. His Nazi credentials together with his clerical position were the calling card that opened every door in the Arab world.

Yasar Arafat called him “the father of the Palestinian people”. PA authority president Abbas repeated this accolade.

Yad Vashem, the world’s foremost Holocaust Museum and memorial had a large photo of Husseini with Hitler on one wall. Opposite was a photo of Jewish soldiers from Palestine volunteering in the British army in the “Jewish Brigade” The contrast was clear.

I say had, because when Yad Vashem was refurbished and expanded in 2005, the Hitler – Husseini photo did not make it into the new museum.

As a tour guide since 1980, I have visited the old museum numerous times and remember clearly how my tourists were shocked by the duo in the photo.

In the new museum, instead of the Husseini – Hitler photo there is a far smaller one of Husseini and Himmler, in a dark corner that no one sees. I finally located it.

When I wrote to Yad Vashem and asked why they removed the photo from the new museum, I was told that the new museum “concentrates on the victims and less on the perpetrators”. However just a few feet from the small Husseini – Himmler photo is an entire wall of perpetrators – the architects of the “Wannsee Conference” that drew up the plans for the Holocaust.

I asked a number of local official Yad Vashem guides about the photo. They either did not know of it or said it was political and they did not discuss it with visitors. They were uncomfortable with my inquiry.

I wondered if associating Palestinian Arabs with Nazis was no longer politically correct since the Oslo accords with Arafat in 1993.

At the meeting Dayan told me he did not meet with me earlier because he did not like the tone of the letters written to him. He told me that “no one will lecture him on Zionism and love of Israel. His credentials speak for themselves.” That is true, which is why I had expectations.

He claimed that I was interested not in historical record but the politics of the Jewish – Arab conflict. I said it was both, which he did not accept. He added that Yad Vashem is not a museum of the Arab – Jewish conflict, that Husseini played only a tiny part in the Holocaust and did not warrant more space than he has in the museum.

He told me that he is in charge and won’t bring the photo back, if there ever was one. His advisor chimed in: “There was never such a photo.” She asked me if I had photographic proof and I reminded her that it is forbidden to bring cameras into the museum. I asked her if the many signed testimonies of veteran guides that I have gathered is proof enough and she said it was a possibility.

Mr. Dayan was frustrated that I continued to hold firm to my position. I told him that there are growing numbers of people, Jews and non-Jews, who want the truth not be hidden at Yad Vashem and the photo returned. He asked that I leave his office.

I intend to continue my efforts to bring the full truth back to Yad Vashem. Political correctness will not stop me. “Jews, Israelis and Arabs” is my new book that sheds light on the current state of affairs in Israel and at places like “Yad Vashem”.

 

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Prayer for IDF heard in Moroccan synagogue

For the first time, the prayer for the Israel Defence Forces was heard in a synagogue in Rabat, in the presence of IDF soldiers from Israel, some of whom had Moroccan roots.  Led by defence minister Benny Gantz, the IDF representatives  were warmly welcomed  in Morocco, which is hoping for greater cooperation with Israel in intelligence and know-how. The Times of Israel reports (with thanks: Ariel):

Cantor Gabriel Deri recites prayers during a visit by Defense Minister Benny Gantz to the Talmud Torah synagogue in Rabat on November 25, 2021. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defence minister Benny Gantz and his IDF listen to Cantor Gabriel Deri recite prayers in a Rabat synagogue

RABAT, Morocco — It is not every day that you hear the prayer for the well-being of Israel Defense Forces soldiers in an Arab country, especially not when there are IDF soldiers in uniform standing alongside you.

But so it was on Thursday when Defense Minister Benny Gantz visited the Talmud Torah synagogue in Rabat, a once larger community that is now down to double-digits, unable to regularly put together the 10-man quorum needed to hold Orthodox prayers.

As it happens, two of the three IDF soldiers in uniform had Moroccan roots, as did a Knesset member who was part of the delegation, Shas’s Ya’akov Margi, who was born in Rabat, and so were a number of other people on the trip, including some journalists.

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President Herzog marks 30 November

A reception at the presidential residence on 30 November will have personal significance for Israel’s new President, Isaac Herzog. His mother Aura was a refugee from Egypt.

Invitation from President Isaac Herzog to the 30 November 2021 reception (Courtesy Levana Z.)

This year, Israel President Isaac Herzog will mark 30th November, the date designated to commemorate the exodus of 850,000 Jews from Arab lands and Iran with a reception, live-streamed to a global audience and hosted jointly with Merav Cohen, minister for Social Equality,  at the President’s residence in Jerusalem. After the formalities, organisations representing the different communities have been invited to join him for a tour of the residence, which was home to the President when his father Chaim Herzog was himself President.

The commemoration has a personal significance for President Isaac Herzog, as his mother Aura (nee Ambache) was a Jew from Egypt, born in Ismailia.  Her sister Suzy married the great diplomat Abba Eban. The President has often mentioned that his mother’s family had fled Egypt in 1948, leaving all their possessions behind.

The Ambache family was among 11,000 Ashkenazi Jews driven out from Palestine during World War I by the Ottoman Turks, mostly because they were identified with the Turkish enemy Russia. The Palestinian Jews found refuge in Egypt. They were helped to resettle by the local Sephardi community. They joined other Ashkenazi refugees fleeing the Tsarist pogroms at the turn of the 20th century. Egypt was the only Arab country to host a Jewish community composed of both Sephardim and Ashkenazim.

The forgotten refugees of 1917

Exodus commemoration is antidote to denial

Jews have rightfully welcomed the Abraham Accords, but enthusiasm must not be allowed to obscure the more unpleasant aspects of Jewish history in Arab countries, argues Lyn Julius in JNS News. That’s why commemorations like the 3o November  events are so essential:

The Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries: Panel 10
Young Jewish refugees in a ma’abara in Israel

Professor Mohamed Aboulghar is a busy man—an obstetrician, politician and amateur historian who has published two books on the Jews of Egypt. Apparently, they are selling like hotcakes. At a recent Zoom meeting, however, his assertion that few Jews had been driven out after the 1956 Suez crisis, and that the rest had left of their own free will, provoked outrage.

Some 25,000 Jews were forced out: Dozens of Egyptian Jews could testify to having been expelled at 24 hours’ notice, or interned for months and put on a ship leaving Egypt, their property sequestered without compensation.

As the saying goes, “denial is a river in Egypt”—but denial is not confined to the Arab world. Plenty of academics and opinion-makers in the West believe that Jews and Muslims coexisted peacefully before Israel was established. Executions in Iraq? Torture in Egyptian prisons? Deadly riots in Libya? If all this was not a figment of the Jewish imagination, they say, it was “understandable backlash” for which the Zionists are ultimately to blame. (The Farhud massacre in Iraq seven years before the establishment of Israel, and the Tritl in Fez, Morocco, in 1912, are harder to explain.)

Jews who look back to their idyllic childhoods in Arab countries have themselves contributed to Exodus denial. Their golden age only lasted as long as the colonial era in the Middle East and North Africa. Arab nationalism soon marginalized and oppressed minorities. Other Jews suppress negative memories because they suffer from a kind of dhimmi syndrome, a survival strategy developed more than 14 centuries of “coexistence” that entails silence and submission.

Jews have rightfully welcomed the Abraham Accords. But in our eagerness to embrace them, it is tempting to dwell solely on the positive points of connection between Isaac and Ishmael. Bridge-building, some think, entails glossing over unpleasant aspects of the past.

Organizations and Israeli embassies across the Jewish world are preparing to observe Nov. 30, the date designated by the Israeli Knesset to mark annually the departure and exodus of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran. It’s a necessary reminder that a healthy relationship ought to be grounded in an honest and balanced assessment of the past, not lies and revisionism.

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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.