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Newsletter for Winter 2021

Director’s Message

Happy New Year!

May 2021 be a year of healing and Tikun Olam.

Sephardi Voices, like many organizations, has taken the opportunity to reinvent itself through Zoom events. During November and December 2020, we hosted programs with synagogues in Miami (Beth Am and Temple Judea), a Sephardi association (Ottawa, Canada), Limmud (Toronto), and Israeli consulates for Yom Plitim (Toronto and Miami). Thousands who knew nothing about Sephardi Voices tuned in to hear stories of the forgotten exodus. Great thanks to Jimmy Benaudis from Morocco/France, Juliette Glasser from Egypt, Elisa Diane from Algeria/France, Lisette Shashoua from Iraq, and Gracy Kahn Esses and Clemy Srour from Lebanon who generously shared their memories.

The Yom Plitim Zoom events hosted by the Israeli consulates were especially poignant. The consulates reached out to their Jewish communities and many organizations signed on to support Sephardi Voices in remembering and celebrating the heritage of the Sephardi/Mizrahi from Arab lands. Among the many were the Zionist Organization of America, the Jewish National Fund, the American Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, and Jewish Federations. In Miami, Mayor Tal Ohana of Yerucham, the fourth generation of immigrants from Morocco, was our guest speaker. She was welcomed by Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, the newly elected mayor of Miami-Dade County.

In Toronto, the Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations, Bob Rae, spoke on behalf of the Canadian government and acknowledged the human rights of the Sephardi/Mizrahi displaced from Islamic lands. This was the first time a representative of the Canadian government spoke officially for Yom Plitim – Jewish Refugee Day.

We are optimistic that Sephardi Voices will continue to partner with Israeli consulates, synagogues, and organizations in hosting Zoom events for 2021. We are also optimistic that as vaccines become available, Sephardi Voices will return to provide face to face programs and conducting interviews. In the interim, SV continues to move forward with the National Library of Israel and the National Library of Canada in cataloguing the collection through the generous support of Robert Mashaal.

Wishing you the best for 2021!

Henry Green

Executive Director

Support Us

A special message from the Chair of Sephardi Voices – Richard Stursberg

The Sephardi Voices Archive houses one of the largest collection of digital audio-visual interviews in the world. To date, over 450 interviews have been done, recording what life was like for Jews living in Arab lands, what happened to the individuals who had to flee, and what has become of them since. The collection contains not only the interviews but also family photographs, school report cards, passports, property deeds, identity cards, and souvenirs, a vast assemblage of materials from the world that was lost.

With the generous support of David Dangoor (London), the Archive will become the source for a new book called Sephardi Voices: Stories of the Arab Jews. The book recounts this largely forgotten exodus through the words of the people who lived through it. They describe their lives before the expulsions began, the terror they had to endure, and the ways in which they rebuilt in the countries that took them in. Their stories are stories of loss, but also stories of redemption.

The book includes many of their family photographs and portraits. There are rare and privileged glimpses into their schools, family gatherings, marriages, and celebrations. They appear as they were then – in Baghdad, Algiers, and Cairo – and as they are now.

Their story is told chronologically. It begins with the first Jew, Abraham, and moves forward through the vast reaches of Jewish history, focusing on the great events of the post-war period: the founding of the state of Israel and the War of Independence, the Suez Crisis, the Algerian War of Independence, the Six-Day War, the Yom Kippur War, and the Iranian Revolution.

These events are seen and heard through the voices of the displaced. There are wealthy bankers and businessmen from Baghdad, friends of the last King of Egypt, impoverished artisans from the Casbah in Algiers, mountain peasants from Morocco, intellectuals and Nobel Prize winners, schoolgirls in Yemen, daring smugglers and influential politicians.

There are witnesses to the pogroms in Libya and Egypt, the burning of the synagogues in Syria, the terrible Farhud in Iraq; there are passengers on the great airlifts of the Magic Carpet and Operation Ezra and Nehemiah; there are families escaping through the mountains of Kurdistan; there are fortunes rebuilt in London and Montreal; there are husbands smuggled into Teheran in search of wives; there are, in fact, the whole lost world and its redemption.

Sephardi Voices: Stories of the Arab Jews will be available in bookstores in the fall of 2021.

Please stay safe.

Richard Stursberg

Sephardi Voices Chair

National Library of Israel launches Sephardi Voices project

Israel, known as Start-Up Nation, has quickly become the Vaccination Nation, with the highest rate of COVID-19 vaccine deployment in the world. Our Sephardi Voices team has been unable to travel and meet in person—and so our interviews of Sephardi Jews from all over the world have been put on hold temporarily. But we are grateful that several key efforts to document the personal histories of the Jews of the Arab world have not been hindered.

One of them is a partnership with the National Library of Israel to house the Sephardi Voices collection in perpetuity. Although it has been closed to the public, the National Library has been hard at work in digitizing and publishing oral histories from the Sephardi Voices’ initiative—the world’s first large-scale digital collection that documents and preserves the life stories of Jews who lived in Arab and Islamic countries. The initiative is the result of an agreement with SV, and it will also include a dedicated landing page devoted to the SV project.

The joint project addresses “a very important subject that, after a long time, has started to become the focus of research, as well as growing public awareness,” said Dr. Yoel Finkelman, curator of the Judaica Collection in the National Library, in an interview in Israel Hayom newspaper. The SV collection at the National Library will include audio interviews, documents and transcripts, and photographs.

The Library, located in the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, contains more than five million books, and holds one of the world’s largest collections of Judaica. A new 34,000 square-foot building is scheduled for completion in 2021.

A joint event with the National Library to formally launch the SV collection will be planned for 2022.

Tamar Morad

Sephardi Voices Israel Director

Guest Contributor – Jimmy Benaudis

My first real experience with anti-Semitism was in 1967 when the Six Day War broke out. It was the first time in my life that I felt my Jewish identity. It was in June. I was at school in second grade. It’s in the middle of the day and during recess in the morning. All of a sudden, a few Moroccan kids in my class, came at me, saying, “we’re going to kill you because you’re a Jew, you’re Zionist.” And we start to fight in the schoolyard. There’s no internet and little TV, but somehow these kids were conditioned by their families, to see me as other, a “Zionist” who deserved to be insulted, spat on and physically assaulted. Al lihoudi khanz – “dirty Jew”. I was 7 years old.

When I got home, I told my mom what happened and she told me, “keep a low profile.” That changed my life in a big way. It made me realize there would always be people reminding me that I was a Jew, and I was somehow a representative of Israel.

We knew when we were growing up that we would probably be the last generation living in Morocco. It was not a matter of where we will live, but when we will leave. There was a feeling of not being home, of always being kind of a second-class citizen. There was no real future for us in Morocco because we were Jewish.

My family’s roots in Morocco go back to 1492. But after centuries, and generations, we left. My sisters and parents moved to Israel. My eldest sister emigrated in 1971 after completing high school. It was a time of change and personal liberation. My parents were not comfortable having their 17-year-old daughter going to France where drugs and sexual freedom were the two main pillars of French universities. I left for Toulouse and university in 1978 at the age of eighteen. It was the golden age for Jews in France. I had never met an Ashkenazi Jew before. Some of them became very good friends of mine. They were close to Israel and proud of their Jewish identity, but I found them very French. Coming from a traditional Moroccan background, I was shocked when I saw a Jew eating ham in his home. Where I came from this was unheard of.

Over time, the mood started to change in France, and I started feeling the same thing that I felt in Morocco – this is not my place. Who is going to be on our side if anti-Semitism comes, and it will come with the growing Muslim population?

We lived in a bubble in Paris and had very good friends living in good neighborhoods. But our kids were going to grow up in this country, go to school, take the metro, go to clubs and confront open hostility. I didn’t want them to encounter what I had to face in Morocco.

A new and rampant anti-Semitism in France fueled mainly by a growing and vocal Muslim community was not going to stop. The time had come to pack up once again. So, in 2002, at age 42, my wife and I decided it was time to leave for the US with our three young children. Leaving seems to be a second nature for Sephardi Jews.

Jimmy Benaudis, Morroco

Sephardi Voices Guest Contributor

Interested in submitting a piece to a future newsletter?

Email our Director of Communications at mdevorahkahn@sephardivoices.com or click below!

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UPCOMING EVENTS

February 11, 2021

Echoes of Purim and Passover: Stories from Egypt and Iran

Purim Program hosted by Sephardi Voices and Temple Judea, TBA

February 21, 2021

Sephardi Voices, Temple Beth Am, and the Miami Jewish Genealogical Society present the Jewish Community from Iran, a Zoom conference hosted by SV Executive Director Henry Green, with special guest speaker, physician and artist, Dr. Lina Zargar-Samimy, and Keynote speaker, Dr. Lior Sternfield, professor of history and Jewish studies at Penn State.

March 18, 2021, Pesach

Israel Consulate of Miami and Sephardi Voices present The Forgotten Exodus: Sephardi Voices From the Arab World, a Zoom presentation on the plight of the Arab Jews, 12:30PM EST.

Fall 2021

Publication of Sephardi Voices – Untold Stories of the Arab Jews, a coffee table book written by SV Chair, Richard Stursberg and SV Executive Director, Henry Green, published by Figure 1 in Vancouver, Canada.

2021/2022 TBA

The Forgotten Exodus – A Canadian Refuge

Portrait Exhibition with opening night keynote speaker, Irwin Cotler, former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa.

2022 TBA

Portrait Exhibition at the National Library of Israel as part of the year of celebration for the opening of the new National Library in Jerusalem. This will also announce the deposit of the entire Sephardi Voices Collection into the Library.

PAST EVENTS HIGHLIGHTS

November 15, 2020, From Baklava to Beavertails: The Syrian & Lebanese Jewish Experience in Canada

Zoom presentation with the Sephardi Association of Ottawa and Sephardi Voices Executive Director, Henry Green, featuring filmmaker Michelle Devorah Kahn.

https://youtu.be/Lp8EC8WQiL8

November 22, 2020, Limmud Toronto

Spielberg and the Sephardi – Testimonies of Jewish Refugees from Islamic Lands

Iraqi witness Lisette Shashoua and Sephardi Voices founder, Henry Green, delivered a Zoom presentation on the legacy of the Sephardi Jews at the annual Jewish educational event.

https://vimeo.com/501997687

November 29, 2020, Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries

Israel Consulate of Toronto and Sephardi Voices presented a Zoom Conference commemorating Yom Plitim. It was hosted by SV Executive Director, Henry Green, with Bob Rae, Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations and from Israel, Guest Speaker Linda Menhuen.

November 30, 2020, Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries

Israel Consulate of Miami and Sephardi Voices presented a Zoom Conference commemorating Yom Plitim. It was hosted by Sephardi Voices Executive Director Henry Green and featured Gislaine Diaine and Elisa Diaine Scemama, first and second generation Algerian Jews, who now live in France and the USA.

December 6, 2020, The Jewish Community from Egypt

Sephardi Voices, Temple Beth Am, and the Miami Jewish Genealogical Society presented a Zoom conference on the Jewish community from Egypt. Speakers included Alain Farhi, Yeves Fedida and Sephardi Voices board member, Juliette Glasser.

December 10, 2020, The Forgotten Refugees – Lights from Sephardi Voices

On the eve of Hanukah, Sephardi Voices and Temple Judea in Miami presented a Zoom conference with guest speakers, Jimmy Benaudis from Morocco, and Sephardi Voices research consultant and interviewer, Lisette Shashoua, who is an Iraqi refugee.

Newsletter for Autumn 2020

Director’s Message

For many months, all of us around the world have been alarmed and affected by the pandemic. Like many others, Sephardi Voices has started connecting virtually. But we are also re-visioning how to help tell your stories.

Odette and Jacob Masliyah, Iraqi refugees, living in Edmonton Canada, were being honored by the Jewish National Fund for their contribution to the Jewish community. The JNF asked how to honor them. The Masliyah’s replied, “tell the story of Jews displaced from Arab lands.” So, Sephardi Voices was invited to create a video from their collection for the online gala celebration. On August 27th, before a large and international zoom audience, hundreds who never had heard of Arab Jews, became aware of their human rights story. Thank you, Odette and Jacob, for your foresight.

https://vimeo.com/443077292

Sephardi Voices is also moving forward with webinars that partner with other organizations such as the Jewish Genealogical Association, The Sephardi Association of Ottawa, Limmud Toronto, and the University of Miami. We are working with Israeli Consulates in the USA and Canada to bring local Sephardi Voices to Yom Plitim activities.

Since we are restricted from doing in home interviews, we are starting a pilot program of interviews on Zoom. This will initiate in South Florida where we will be interviewing in Spanish for the first time.

Unfortunately, a number of major Sephardi Voices projects have been put on hold in 2020, such as the portrait exhibit planned for the National Library of Canada. But we are encouraged that they will blossom in 2021. We continue to move forward with cataloguing the collection through a generous gift from Nan and David Rich, and Robert Mashaal. Sephardi Voices is hard at work on The Arab Jews, a coffee table book published by Figure1 in Vancouver, and made possible by David Dangoor (London.) The publication date is Hanukah 2021.

Between September 2019 and February 2020, we had three standout portrait exhibitions at the Jewish Museum of Montreal, the Miles Nadal JCC in Toronto and the Wynwood Gallery of the University of Miami. This led to many gallery visitors volunteering to be interviewed with donor possibilities to cover costs of operating Sephardi Voices. Unfortunately, the pandemic has interrupted our momentum. We need your help. Please lend a hand in supporting Sephardi Voices.

May 5781 be a year of health, abundance and blessings. Shana tovah umetukah ve hatimah tovah!

Henry Green

Executive Director

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Sephardi Voices International and the Great Uprooting

Dear friends,

This is the first time as Chairman of Sephardi Voices International (SVI) that I have had the opportunity to write to you. I do so during very strange and difficult times. The Covid-19 virus has created the worst social and economic crisis since the end of the Second World War. Nobody knows how or when it will end. At SVI, we extend our sympathy and best wishes to all whose lives have been upset or ruined by the pandemic.

2020/5781 marks 75 years since the conclusion of World War Two. The surrender of Germany brought an end to the scourge of Nazism, but saw the beginning of the systematic oppression of the Jews in Arab lands. Starting in the late 1940s, the mass exodus of the Sephardim began. Over the next three decades, almost a million fled their ancestral communities.

Now, almost 40 years after the flood of refugees peaked, the enormous exodus remains relatively unknown. The fate of other displaced peoples has been covered in detail and received international political attention, but the mass expulsion of the Sephardi Jews fell into one of the memory holes of history.

Just over 10 years ago, SVI was established as a small research project focused on documenting the stories of displacement. Since then, it has grown into an archive that houses the personal testimonies of more than 400 people who had to abandon their homes.

The narratives of the refugees and displaced are recorded in a video in their own voices. They capture the cultures of their communities, their accounts of their perilous escapes and their ultimate triumphs over injustice. Their stories are the core of the archive, the living heart of SVI.

As the archive has grown, it has become an important resource for scholars and educators. To ensure its preservation and to facilitate access, the collection is being housed in the national libraries of Israel, Canada, Britain and the United States. 

Using the archived stories, SVI has produced curricular materials, films, exhibitions and international symposia to document, explore and understand what happened. Plans are underway to produce a large illustrated book that, using the collected stories, will tell the history of the Great Uprooting. 

I am enormously proud of what has been accomplished and look forward to even greater developments in the years to come. 

Please stay safe.

Richard Stursberg

 

Past Events

February 3 – March 16, 2020 An American Refuge Portrait Exhibition at the University of Miami Gallery
Sephardi Voices and the University of Miami Department of Art and Art History hosted the portrait exhibition Sephardi Voices An American Refuge, at the University of Miami Gallery in Wynwood Miami. Opening night saw an enthusiastic crowd of over 200 people enjoying the striking artistry of portrait photographer J. Tomas Lopez.
https://vimeo.com/461161289

May 4, 2020 Greater North Miami Historical Society/Florida International University
Dr. Henry Green, Executive Director of Sephardi Voices presented a lecture via zoom on “Miami Immigrant Stories: Hispanic Sephardi from Islamic Lands”.
https://miami.box.com/v/HistoricalMiamiHenryGreen

August 27, 2020, JNF Edmonton Negev Zoom Gala, honouring Odette and Jacob Masliyah
Dr. Henry Green, Executive Director of Sephardi Voices, hosted a video on the story of the Arab Jews, produced in Miami for the Zoom tribute to Jacob and Odette Maliyah.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sKBKpqqUoc8&feature=youtu.be

Upcoming Events

ZOOM INTERVIEWS

In keeping with current health guidelines, Sephardi Voices will be starting regular interviewing again in South Florida, New York, Montreal and Toronto with Zoom video conferencing. Even though the interviews will not be of the same high SV technical broadcast standard, it is important that the interviews not be interrupted, and SV continues to preserve the Sephardi legacy.

October 25, The Sephardi Association of Ottawa

The Joseph Esses Story (film), followed by a panel discussion moderated by Dr. Henry Green with filmmaker Michelle Devorah Kahn, Joseph’s granddaughter and Clemy Srour, Past President of the Association.

November 22, Limmud Toronto, Sephardi Voices – A Canadian Refuge

Zoom webinar with Dr. Henry Green and witnesses Flo Urbach (Iraq), Robert Sidi (Lebanon) and Noemi Liberman (Libya).

November 29, Yom Plitim event Miami

Zoom Webinar with Galit Peleg, Israel Consul of Miami, Michael Biton, Israeli Minister of Defense and South Florida Sephardi, moderated by Dr. Henry Green.

TBA, Yom Plitim event in Toronto

Zoom webinar with Galit Baram, Israel Consul of Toronto, Tal Ohana, Mayor of Yeruhum, and Canadian Sephardi moderated by Dr. Henry Green.

December 6, Miami Jewish Genealogical Society with Temple Beth Am

Egypt and Genealogy: Reconnecting to Sephardi ancestry and heritage

Zoom webinar with Dr. Henry Green, Yoram Millman and Egyptian Sephardi.

Delayed, The Forgotten Exodus – A Canadian Refuge

Portrait Exhibition with opening night keynote speaker, Irwin Cotler, former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa.

Delayed, The Forgotten Exodus – An Untold Story

Multi-media portrait exhibition and programing events, Schwartz/Resiman JCC, Toronto.

Israel Launches $2.6m project to interview Jews displaced from Arab Lands

Haaretz, Dec. 13, 2016

The stories, heritage and history of Jews who immigrated to Israel from Arab lands will be documented as part of a new national project. Sephardi Voices will be recognized in this incredible initiative. Please CLICK HERE to read the full article in Haaretz.

Sephardi Voices Toronto Launch

Sept. 20, 2016: Executive Director, Dr. Henry Green, and International Chair, Richard Stursberg, detail the Sephardi Voices project to a rapt audience at the home of Canadian Senator Linda Frum.

Sephardi Voices chair Richard Stursberg interviewed by The Canadian Jewish News

SEPTEMBER 2016: Richard Stursberg, former executive vice-president of CBC/Radio Canada, and now chair of the board of Sephardi Voices International, talks to The Canadian Jewish News about why he got involved in preserving the voices of the Sephardim. He speaks about how the expulsion of the Sephardim was both a catastrophe for the Jews, and a catastrophe for the Islamic countries involved. Read the complete interview in the September 8 Edition of the Canadian Jewish News. (You’ll find it on page 54.)

Sephardi Voices launches in Canada

SEPTEMBER 12 2016: There was a big turnout for Sephardi Voices launch in Montreal last night. Thanks to everyone who attended. As you can see in the photo, Sephardi Voices chair Richard Stursberg addressed a rapt Montreal audience. More events to come over the next few days.

Part two of the Canadian launch will take place in Toronto September 19 to 23.

Sephardi Voices Director Dr. Henry Green interviewed on CBC

AUGUST 11, 2016: The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Jill Dempsey interviews Sephardi Voices Founding Director Dr. Henry Green. Henry answers questions about the forgotten exodus of the Sephardi Jews, their diverse cultural heritage, and why he wants their voices to be heard. Henry also speaks of how his involvement with Sephardi Voices has changed his life and touched his soul.

LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW

US Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen tours Iraqi Jewish Archive

JANUARY 5, 2016: Sephardi Voices Executive Director, Henry Green, accompanies US Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen on a tour of the Iraqi Jewish Archive in the Jewish Museum of Florida.

WATCH A VIDEO OF THE TOUR

Jewish Museum of Florida

JANUARY 26, 2014: Executive Director Henry Green introduces the oral legacy of Sephardi Voices to a rapt audience at the Jewish Museum of Florida.

WATCH A VIDEO OF THIS PRESENTATION