Monday, November 06, 2006

Why Don't We Know Their Stories?

I grew up in a city in upstate New York where there was a small Jewish community. Of these Jews, I would say at least 90% (if not more) were of Ashkenazi descent. I knew of only two families that were not - one originally from Egypt, and one originally from Morocco.

The Egyptian family (I was so small that I don't recall family names) were the only other Jews in the huge apartment complex in which we lived. Whenever my mother would bump into the father of the family, he would make a point of gently laying his hand on my cheek and complimenting my mother on her "beautiful Jewish children". An adult reading this may think that this was just a charming way to flatter my mother, but the my inner childhood radar picked up that he was completely sincere - and his shining eyes proved it.

As a teenager becoming observant, I started to attend the synagogue on a regular basis, and I became aware of the very nice man who read the Torah every Shabbat with a very distinctive melody. His wife was the only other woman who covered her hair (besides the Rabbi's wife, of course) and she did it with a plain scarf (instead of a wig). I remember my mother telling me their story - that they escaped from Morrocco, where they had been wealthy Jews, with only the clothes on their backs. Although they were not observant before, their family's miraculous escape unharmed from the Arabs who were killing other Jews, prompted them to become religious. They lived very modestly in America, but they were very grateful for their lives and their religious freedom.

Why did I suddenly think of these two families now? The wonders of the internet, of course. No, I did not come across their names. I came across a website called The Forgotten Refugees.

Who are the forgotten refugees? The Jews, of course. Whenever you hear about the Middle East conflict you hear about the Arab refugees who fled Israel in 1948. But you never hear about the Jewish refugees who fled Arab countries (and Iran) throughout the 20th century because of Arab persecution.Why is that? A very simple reason - we Jews take care of our own. You will not find three generations of Jews still living in abysmal conditions - because they have been absorbed by Israel, and in some cases America, and are living normal productive lives.

The web site is primarily about the documentary film of the same name, but includes a lot of information and links to other websites on the same topic. You can click on a map of Middle Eastern countries and learn about the history of the Jews in each place. I followed a link to a site titled JusticeForJews, and saw that the International Rights and Redress Campaign had a steering committee meeting in Jerusalem two weeks ago. There is a place to click to get a claims questionnaire for those who fled (available in English, Hebrew, Arabic, French, Spanish, and Italian) and I was surprised and pleased to see that there was legislation passed in Congress on May 23, 2006 on this topic.

The American Sephardi Federation is also listed as a link, and besides quite a lot of other fascinating things, has a traveling exhibit of pictures. They also provide a link to the claims questionnaire.


Blogger Ways of Zion said...

thanks for the links.

4:20 PM, November 06, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was born in Morocco and no Jew fled for his/her life. Not true. May be in Algeria or Egypt. People left mostly for economic reasons.
Propaganda is bad from whatever side. Ashkenazim are the dominant group, of course we know more about them than they about us.

8:39 PM, November 06, 2006  
Blogger westbankmama said...

mother of Israel - the list of places you want to visit look great! All of them seem to be ok even for little kids, although with some advanced planning. For example you will need baby carriers for the little ones, and you will probably opt for the cable car up to Masada instead of the hike up the snake path! The Shiloach tunnels may be a problem though.

annoymous - perhaps I am not remembering the exact country correctly - it has been quite a long time since I was a teenager!

9:23 AM, November 07, 2006  
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