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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
On 23 June 2014, the Government of Israel adopted a law, which designates 30th November as an annual, national day of commemoration for the one million Jewish refugees who were displaced from Arab countries and Iran in the 20th century. For the seventh year running organisations, universities, synagogues and embassies will be holding special events. Here is a listing of 2021 events we know about to-date:
Online, 18 November. The Edwin Black Show, 3 pm ET: Yom Hagirush
Online 20 November. Los Angeles Beth Am Congregation, Jews of Iraq. 3:30 PST
Online 23 November. Tel Aviv. With Dana Avrish and Ben-Dror Yemini, 4 pm Israel.
Rome, 28 November – 5 December. ASTREL, Jews of Libya. Details : [email protected] tel. +39 339 8847058
Paris, 28 November . AMUSSEF, 2 pm Europe.
New York, 30 November. ASF Institute of Jewish Experience. Reclaiming Identity, 9 am ET.
New England, 30 November. Consulate General of Israel Commemoration. With Mijal Bitton
London, 30 November, JW3/ Harif/ Sephardi Voices. Also online. 7:30 pm UK.
Montreal, 30 November. The Spanish synagogue, 7 pm ET
Santiago de Chile, 30 November – 1 December. Embassy of Israel in Chile./ Oriente Medio/ JIMENA/HARIF. 12 noon Latin
Online , 2 December. Consulate General of Israel to the Pacific NW and LA.
Tel Aviv, 2 December, Dahan Centre, Israel
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.
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