Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Refugee remembrance is personal

As JIMENA embarks on a full programme  to mark Mizrahi Remembrance Month, two Jews from Arab countries tell their stories to Dan Pine of the Jewish Journal:

Daniel Khazzoom remembers long-ago family gatherings around the sopa (kerosene space heater), roasting chestnuts and enjoying chilly winter nights in Baghdad.


Those are the only happy memories he has of the land of his birth. In the span of a few years, through a steady campaign of violence and expulsion, Iraq rid itself of a Jewish community that had thrived for two millennia.

Khazzoom fled as a teen in 1951, vowing never to return to the country that perpetrated unrelenting oppression against his family and his fellow Jews.

Now a retired economics professor living in Sacra-mento, Khazzoom, 82, once served on the board of JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa), a San Francisco–based organization that advocates for Mizrachi Jews and helps preserve their history.

Khazzoom is one of the 850,000 Mizrachi Jewish refugees from Arab countries who were forced out of their homelands after World War II and the establishment of Israel, and for whom justice has been denied. By and large they built new lives in Israel, the United States and elsewhere, choosing not to dwell on their misfortune.

But because the world ignored them, and because their countries of origin refused to consider any compensation, organizations such as JIMENA came into being.

Like other Jews from Arab lands, Khazzoom noted recent recognitions by Israel’s Knesset, which in June passed a law mandating that Israeli schools teach Mizrachi history, and which designated Nov. 30 as the country’s first Day of Com-memoration.

And JIMENA has named November as International Mizrachi Remembrance Month, with events taking place in Chicago, Portland, New York and Ottawa, as well as the Bay Area.

A group of Jewish tailors from Algeria, 1901  photo/courtesy jimena
A group of Jewish tailors from Algeria, 1901 photo/courtesy jimena
For Khazzoom, the new law and the celebrations may constitute a dose of too little, too late.

“I have mixed feelings,” he said. “In general we should not dwell on the misery. There are too many miseries in Jewish history.”

Nevertheless, JIMENA has helped organize several Bay Area commemorations on behalf of the Jewish refugees displaced from Muslim countries in the 20th century, among them Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Turkey.

One event, held Oct. 30 at San Francisco’s Congregation Beth Sholom, featured speeches from Iraqi-born JIMENA co-founder Semha Alwaya and Israeli Consul General Andy David, as well as a performance of Sephardic songs by Israeli musician Yair Harel.

David praised the Knesset for passing the new education law.
Daniel Khazzoom
Daniel Khazzoom
“Now it’s part of the curriculum,” he told J. “In a year or two [Israeli] students will have to be tested on [Mizrachi history]. It will be on a higher level of the agenda. It was the Israeli leadership that advocated for it and wanted to pass it, not just Mizrachi Jews.”

Sarah Levin, executive director of JIMENA, called passage of the law “fantastic.”

“Everyone is so proud of the Knesset for passing this bill,” she said. “Ideally it will have an impact on Jewish education curricula in the United States.”

Corrine Levy, who came as a child to the United States from her native Morocco, rejoiced at the passage of the law and spate of commemorations. For her, it’s personal.

“I’m glad to see awareness is being raised,” said Levy, who serves as director of women’s philanthropy at the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation. “We all know so much about Jews in the Holocaust. There were very different circumstances Jews endured in the Arab world.”

For her family, it meant leaving their Casablanca home in the early 1960s, joining an exodus that shrank the Moroccan Jewish community from more than 250,000 to around 3,500 today. Still, for Jews, Morocco was perhaps the least intolerant Arab country.

Levy remembers playing on the roof of her grandmother’s home in Casablanca.
Daniel Khazzoom (left) with family members in Baghdad  photo/courtesy jimena
Daniel Khazzoom (left) with family members in Baghdad photo/courtesy jimena
“The Jews lived a very rich life in Morocco,” she said. “Even after [the establishment of] Israel it was OK for them. They felt the monarchy was favorable to the Jews. Many in business did commerce with the king. However, when France ended its protectorate in 1958 (1956 - ed) and Morocco gained independence, Jews felt they would lose everything. Many left for Israel, some to France, Spain and Montreal.”

Unlike so many other Mizrachi Jews forced to leave everything behind when they fled, Morocco’s Jews were treated more leniently. The Levys were allowed to take their assets with them.

Read article in full

Commemorating the exodus of Jewish refugees


Sylvia said...

"Now it's part of the curriculum".

No it's not.
The law passed in Parliament but there has been so far no education minister willing ot able to implement it. Nothing in sight in the near future either but organizations, namely the Organization of the Jews of Libya is trying to otganise to force the change.

"The Levys were allowed to take their assets with them."
They may have taken their assets with them, but allowed they were not if they were indigenous Jews.
Between 1961 and 1968-9, a Moroccan Jew wishing to leave Morocco couldn't even get a passport,much less leave with his assetts. Moreover the travel allowance was in those days 10 dollars per person.

Sylvia said...

Commemoration news:

President Ruby Rivlin has cancelled the performance of Amir Benayoun at the Sunday event commemorating the refugees from Muslim countries.

Amir Banayoun, a talented music singer and composer,is said to have written a song "bordering on racism" titled "Ahmed".

The imbecile.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

There is a lot wrong with our education system. The failure to teach this subject is just one of many. A high school social studies teacher once told me that she wasn't sure that Haj Amin el-Husseini was a Nazi collaborator and had taken part in the Shoah.

Old timers from the era of Labor/Mapam hegemony are still around as far as I know. You can't teach an old dog new tricks, especially when they don't want to learn and when they "know" that all knowledge and wisdom are on the "Left". For the record, I do not believe in the whole notion of a Left-Right political spectrum.

Sylvia said...

You're right of course.
There is presently a debate that followed that haaretz article I mentioned the last time.

There was a rebuttal in Haoketz stressing that the analogy was wrong.

After that came Sami Shalom Shetrit in Haaretz under the title "Mizrahi Account" calling for a Mizrahi "Tahrir" and wondering why the Mizrahi movement (radical left aspect of itof course) has failed to gain traction among those his calls Mizrahim, but who call themselves either Sephardim or by the name of their country of origin.
Then another reaction in Haoketz, with the same words, the same arguments, the same tropes as in the 1970s and the 1980s.

None of these people realise they have remained stuck in the 1970s-80s, that from where we stand people like Shalom Shetrit acts and quacks like the Ashkenazi he loathes, or his quarrellous, divisive, extreme, domineering, coercive stereotype, whom he has attempted toemulate allhis life.
Going to a kibbutz as a youth, to the army in the Nahal, marrying an American ashkenazia,teaching in the US for years,not to mention espousing radical leftism,purportedly a European trait. Then he comes back and think they're going to follow him because he came from Morocco at age zero.

Like Shenhav, who also did everything to europeanize,married an Ashkenazia, espoused radical leftism, etc.

But the real fake is Oren Yiftachel.
Oren Yiftachel is a Mittelpaischer from a Northern kibbutz founded by German Jews, kibbutz Metzuva, where the first settlers among whom his parents changed their German names to biblical names, and because Yiftachel sounds Yemenite, he has been able to pass off as Mizrahi. When he was a member of the Keshet haMizrahit fighting for land redistribution, he was in reality fighting to get land for himself and his family members as "bnei kibbutz".

You'd think any rebuttal to "Mizrahim in America" would have emphasized the accomplishments of "Mizrahim" in America.
But these professional "Mizrahim" don't even know - and don't want to know that.