The world has overlooked an important episode in modern history: the 800,000 Jews who left or were driven from their homes in Arab nations and Iran in the mid-20th century to forge new lives for themselves and future generations. The Forgotten Exodus is a new limited podcast series by American Jewish Committee (AJC). Manya Brachear Pashman tells the story of this pivotal moment in history by interviewing personalities who have made contributions to the countries where they resettled. eJP reports: (With thanks: Imre, Boruch, Monica, Avi)
Soon after the establishment of the State of Israel, author André Aciman’s family made a desperate flight from Egypt, where they lived under the threat of growing antisemitism worsened by the Nasser regime. For the family of memoirist Carol Isaacs, it was antisemitism demonstrated in the 1941 Farhud, or pogrom, that eventually uprooted them from their Iraqi homeland. And two generations after his family was spirited out of Yemen in Operation Magic Carpet in 1949, Israeli windsurfer Shahar Tzubari took home a bronze medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Stories like these, which document the little-known plight of some of the 800,000 Jews who were forced out of their long-thriving communities in Middle Eastern capitals such as Cairo, Baghdad and Sana’a shortly before and after Israel’s creation, are part of a new limited podcast series by American Jewish Committee titled “The Forgotten Exodus,” which premieres today.
“We often view the Jewish world through an Ashkenazi lens; we talk about the Holocaust but not the Farhud in Iraq,” Manya Brachear Pashman, a religion writer and the host of AJC’s podcasts, told eJewishPhilanthorpy. “When we talk about Jews in the Middle East, we often talk about Israel. But for thousands of years Jews lived all over the Middle East with rich vibrant cultures.”
The six-part series, which opens with a segment on Isaacs, deliberately focuses on the stories of acclaimed writers, athletes and others whose stories, organizers believe, will resonate with the wider Jewish community. “I wanted to illustrate that these people are making contributions to art, culture, diplomacy and athletics, among many fields,” Brachear Pashman said. “They yielded these wonderful contributions to society.”
Aciman detailed his family’s perilous escape from the growing antisemitism during Gamal Abdel Nasser’s presidency in his 1995 book Out of Egypt: A Memoir. “In Egypt you had a group of Jews who were native and were made stateless when Nasser came to power,” said Brachear Pashman, describing the situation for some Jewish communities in Egypt at the time. “They didn’t see the value of citizenship until it was too late. When they finally applied they were denied. Thankfully Israel existed by then; it was a haven for people who were stateless and had nowhere else to go.”
Isaacs pieced together her family’s ordeal fleeing Iraq in the graphic memoir, The Wolf of Baghdad: Memoir of a Lost Homeland, published in 2020. “It’s been interesting. A lot of people didn’t even know that there were Jews living in Arab lands,” she said. “Nobody knows about what happened to them, that they were ethnically cleansed, removed from their homes and dispersed across the world … It’s our truth and it’s our history.”