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!
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.
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.
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
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.