Tag: Jewish refugees/Canada campaign

Israel must not ignore Jewish refugees

The grand-daughter of a Moroccan refugee, Meirav Cohen,  is now a minister in the Israeli government, but more must be done to educate  Israelis about the plight of refugees. To-date, no Arab government has accepted responsiblity for driving out their Jews, says President Isaac Herzog, whose mother was born in Egypt. Both Minister Cohen and President Herzog addressed the official commemoration of the departure and expulsion of Jews from Arab countries and Iran. The Jerusalem Post reports:
 President Isaac Herzog speaks on the first night of Hanukkah at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, November 28, 2021. (credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

President Isaac Herzog speaks on the first night of Hanukkah at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, November 28, 2021. (credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

President Isaac Herzog and Social Equality and Pensioners Minister Meirav Cohen (Yesh Atid) also addressed the commemoration ceremony.

The underlying message by all the speakers as well as by compère and radio and television personality Jackie Levy was that more than two thousand years of the achievements and traditions of Jews in Arab lands, had been largely ignored in Israel, and it was imperative for the stories to be told.
Herzog himself said that even though immigrants from Arab lands and Iran had arrived in Israel with virtually nothing, there was a spark of optimism in that they had overcome their difficulties and had contributed to the upbuilding of the nation. Cohen was the symbol of this, Herzog said, noting that her grandparents Saadia and Sala had come from Morocco and had been sent to Ramle, where Saadia worked very hard to provide for his family, and today his granddaughter is a minister in the government of Israel.
Long before  Cohen’s grandparents and others like them came to Israel, said Herzog, there had been a steady trickle of migration from Morocco for some five hundred years.
There is no doubt about the how or the why Jews left Arab lands, and to this day, no Arab government has accepted responsibility, said Herzog. Acknowledging that more of the story must be told, Herzog praised a woman in the audience who has put the story of Iraqi Jews on the Internet for the whole of the world to see.
He was hopeful that changes in the region and the normalization of relations between Israel and various Muslim countries will help to strengthen relations between Israel and the few Jews still living in those countries.

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

Jewish refugee commemorations to be held worldwide

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

The Mass Kaddish started with Miss Baghdad, 1947

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.

Read article in full

Mass kaddish will show religious solidarity with exodus

Mass kaddish will  honour Jews buried in Arab lands

Mass kaddish to be said again for 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.

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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.