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.
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
Update: 15,000 institutions and individuals signed up to the Mass Kaddish this year, a record.
This weekend, many synagogues around the world will be recitingkaddish for Jews buried in inaccessible cemeteries in Arab lands. Writing in the Jerusalem Post, Ashley Perry describes how the initiative was born, and its unlikely link with a 1947 beauty queen:
Jewish cemetery, Sadr city, Baghdad
Many will remember how in 2017 Miss Iraq Sarah Idan was forced out of her country after sharing a photograph on social media of her posing at that year’s Miss Universe contest in Las Vegas with Israel’s representative. Idan was ostracized in her country but became an international cause célèbre, invited to speak by many Jewish and Zionist organizations, including at the United Nations.
However, this unique turn of events had many other ramifications that could not be foreseen.
As a result of this episode, the person (whose name cannot be published due to death threats) who ran the Miss Iraq contest lost their government funding and sponsorships and went looking for other sources of revenue. He learned that the first-ever Miss Iraq was a Jewish woman named Renée Dangoor, who was crowned in 1947 in Baghdad, and her son, David Dangoor, is a prominent philanthropist and businessman living in London.
Reaching out to the global Jewish Iraqi community around the Diaspora looking for Renée’s son, the pageant owner stumbled upon Sass Peress, an Iraqi Jew who lives in Montreal and a relative of Dangoor’s. Peress agreed to help but asked him for a favor in return for the contact.
Peress asked if he knew a certain cemetery in Baghdad where his paternal grandfather was buried, although lacking the exact location.
Within 72 hours, Peress was sent a picture of his grandfather’s grave in Sadr City. When he saw that the grave and others in the cemetery were in such dire condition, he asked the Iraqi to record for posterity as many of the names on other graves as possible.
Then came the sad realization that Peress would probably never be able to stand over his ancestors’ graves and recite the mourners’ Kaddish.
Not just him, but few of the almost one million Jews, and their descendants, who fled or were pushed out of Arab countries during the last century would be able to visit or tend to their family’s graves.
Peress decided that he would organize a few local synagogues to say a mass Kaddish prayer on the Shabbat closest to November 30, which due to a law passed in the Knesset in 2014, is officially the Day of Commemoration to Mark the Departure and Expulsion of Jews from the Arab Countries and Iran.
He found that many Jews from the Middle East and North Africa had similar stories to his – and worse – with many cemeteries in the region either completely destroyed or in a high level of neglect and disrepair.
Mass kaddish will honour Jews buried in Arab lands
For the third year running, prayers will be recited in synagogues across the world in remembrance of Jews buried in inaccessible cemeteries in Arab lands.
Graves in the Baghdad Jewish cemetery
This year the mass Hashkaba (kaddish) will take place on 28 November, the nearest Shabbat to the official day to commemorate the exodus of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran, 30 November.
The mass Kaddish is the initiative of a Montreal resident of Iraqi origin, Sass Peress. For decades, families have been prevented from reciting prayers at the gravestones of their loved ones buried in Arab lands.
Inspired by a Facebook post by a Muslim friend in the UK referring to Miss Israel’s selfie with Miss Iraq in 2017, Peress embarked on a project to locate and clean up his grandfather’s grave in the Sadr City Jewish cemetery in Baghdad. This was done in secrecy in case of official interference.
“While some Iraqi Muslims stepped up and saw the positive in helping me discover my grandfather’s grave, some tried to get in the way, to the point of threats against the lives of those who sought to help me, “Peress recalls.
Before long the clean-up was extended to 150 graves.Their inscriptions were photographed and translatedinto English by Sami Sourani, a historian of the Iraqi-Jewish community based in Montreal. Peress hopes to obtain a photographic record of all 3,000 graves in the Sadr City cemetery.
Last year, some 50 groups in Canada, the US, the UK, Mexico and Germany recited the prayers.
In 2020, due to the worldwide pandemic, the event has also gone “virtual”. Refer to https://www.kaddishinitiative.com to join the prayer in remembrance of those who cannot be visited. The joint prayer may be dowloaded and and recited from the comfort of your own home, or if possible, in those synagogues which are open for services.
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.
Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries
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forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.