Hilary Peer

The Forgotten Refugees

Our rabbi at BHRS, Brighton and Hove Reform Synagogue shared with us the story of ‘The Forgotten Refugees’ it is the story of the destruction of Jewish life and expulsion of the Jews from Arab countries and Iran.

I’m ashamed to say it is a subject I knew very little about.

Learning about the Shoah is an integral part of Jewish education, as is rightly should be.
But we must also ensure that future generations are also taught about the history of the Mizrahi people.

Their deep connection to Judaism and Israel, the contributions they have made to our society and most importantly to share their stories.

Of course, like many others I had heard about it but not to the level of really understanding what happened in the Arab lands to our brothers and sisters.

The documentary highlighted the barbaric and inhumane atrocities that took place in Yemen, Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Morocco, and Iran. These atrocities ended with the displacement of over a million people.

During the two-day Farhud in Baghdad and other Jewish population centres in Iraq, Jewish homes were marked so mobs could destroy them. In the process, 180 Jews were recorded as murdered. Similar to Kristallnacht in Germany and Nazi-occupied lands, shops and religious buildings were looted and set ablaze.

“The Farhud was a turning point because it was the first step in this Jewish community’s dispossession,” (journalist, Edward Black)

After Nazi Germany’s defeat in 1945, the persecution of Middle Eastern Jews in no way slowed down. On the contrary, Arab and Muslim governments accelerated the persecution of their ancient Jewish communities, confiscating assets and passing restrictive measures. In Yemen, 82 Jews were murdered, and the ancient Jewish quarter of Aden was burned to the ground in 1947.

Whilst watching, sadly what became so apparent is that the ideology of hating the Jews has not changed, and we have witnessed the same atrocities again, this time in our homeland on the 7th of October.

The same evil acts were perpetrated, innocent civilians were brutally attacked in their homes.
However, with all the sadness, the narrators of this documentary all shared a common goal and a strong determination to move forward.

Despite having lost everything, they came to Israel and continued with their lives.
They were housed in tents, in the desert, some of them for more than two years, with very little assistance form the newly founded state of Israel, which was facing war on all sides.
They didn’t receive aid from the UN or any offer of repatriation. Until this day they have not received any compensation from the Arab governments, despite losing family, their homes, and businesses. Not only were they persecuted and expelled from their homes, but they faced a new type of racism by the Ashkenazi leaders in Israel.

Mizrahi immigrants were often looked down on as simple and antiquated and excluded from full participation in society.

But with hope, strength, and perseverance they worked hard to establish themselves and make a new life for their families.

Mizrahi Jews are an integral part of Israeli life, today they make up over half of the Israeli Jewish population. Accordingly, they have a huge impact on Israeli society and politics.
Including Gabi Ashkenazi – Former Chief of the IDF General Staff [3] Eli Cohen – Israeli spy who worked in Syria and was eventually exposed and executed in Syria in 1965
And many actors and musicians who we have come to know and love, Ofra Haza – singer, actress and international recording artist. Sasson Gabai – actor (recently in the series “Fauda”

Not forgetting the culinary delights that Mizrahi Jews have brought to our tables.
The Jewish education system and all educational institutions should endeavour to add these stories of endurance and bravery to the general curriculum.

‘Never Again’ and ‘let us not forget’ are two phrases we use a lot amongst the Jewish
people. Let this also ring true of the “Forgotten Refugees’ they too deserve to be heard and remembered.

About the Author
I am British born and attended Jewish primary and secondary schools. My whole life I have been a passionate zionist and made aliyah in 2002. I met my husband and we have two lovely daughters. After living in Israel for almost twenty years, in 2018 we decided to move to England I am a childcare professional and have my own childminding business, as well as being an educator at the Reform synagogue. Along with my husband we run an ‘Israel in Focus” group and run events for our community. I believe that Jewish education must be inclusive, and it is vital we show our children to be proud of who they are. We have to raise awareness, teach history, show them how much they can achieve. Teach them the history of Israel, about our warriors, and our achievement's.
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