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.
“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.
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.
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.
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Commemorating the exodus of Jewish refugees