The Israeli curator of Leaving, never to return is Dana Avrish, whose grandparents came from Syria, Lebanon and Iran. Avrish lived in Morocco for two years.
The exhibition title was inspired by the words stamped on the exit certificates and suitcases of hundreds of thousands of Jews: رحلة بدون رجعة (literally: one-way trip).
Below: showcase representing the Jews of Iraq.
Above: Annette Hemo with her brother and sister, Fez, Morocco, 1908
From the ceiling hang 11 talithot (prayer shawls) to illustrate the stories (in English and Hebrew) of each community - Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Libya, Egypt,Yemen, Aden and Iran. Each bears a historical timeline, family photographs and a paragraph describing Avrish's own personal connection to that particular country, an anecdote or writer's quote. There are also works of art on display by modern Israeli artists of Mizrahi heritage.
The talith is the common thread linking the Jews of all these countries. Avrish was inspired to use this representation of religious continuity by an event that took place at the Giado work camp in fascist Libya during the Second World War: an officer entered a prison barracks, ran his finger over the dusty wooden beams, and threatened the 100 or so inmates with heavy punishment if the barrack was not cleaned. In the absence of anything but the scant clothing on their bodies, one man took out his talith, detached its fringes, and turned it into a cloth. And so, more than the Jews preserved the talith, the talith preserved them.
The last talith suspended beside the exhibition exit is blank, possibly symbolic of the fact that no Jews live in the Arab world anymore. The story of more than 2,000 years of Jewish life in the Middle East and North Africa outside Palestine is over, but the talith remains, in all its purity and longevity.
Leaving, never to return is on at the Eretz Museum, Tel Aviv until 31 July 2019.