‘Forgotten Jewish refugees’ to be remembered on November 30

Sylvia Hazan (nee Amar) was born in Marrakesh, Morocco, a place she says her family felt safe in from the 1920s, under the Alawite royal dynasty. Her paternal grandparents Abraham and Aicha were Jewish Berbers from Ourika in the Atlas Mountains. Sylvia remembers her grandfather going by donkey every Sunday to sell goods to the Muslim Berbers and bringing back skins from the tanners in Marrakesh. Her grandfather always travelled with other Jews, as they were subject to attack. (Pictured above Left, Sylvia in Morocco in 1973, pictured below Berber jewellery given to Sylvia by her grandparents).

Sylvia’s maternal grandfather was born in Egypt, and her great-grandparents spent their lives trying to reach Israel, “to die there”. They never achieved this aim. Sylvia and her own family left Morocco in 1973, after King Hassan II was attacked and the lives of Moroccan Jews became precarious. Among many other attacks, her older son Georges had been knifed the first time he went to school alone.

As a young family of refugees in Paris, she says, “we asked for a visa to immigrate to Australia – as far as we could go from the world I grew up in”.

Sylvia is just one of almost 800,000 “forgotten Jewish refugees” from Arab lands and Iran, who are, at long last, now remembered every year on November 30. Israel designated this day in 2014 for the “Recognition of the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab lands and Iran” and in 2015 the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies established its own annual event in partnership with the Sephardi Synagogue and the Sydney Jewish Museum.

The 2015 event attracted almost 400 people, eager to hear and tell the stories of Jews from Arab lands and Iran who make up approximately one quarter of the local Jewish community. Since that time, the Sydney Jewish Museum has included Mizrahi artifacts in its permanent exhibition about waves of Jewish migration to Australia, established an interview program to record Mizrahi stories and is planning a temporary exhibition on the theme. Synagogues across NSW are encouraged to mark the Shabbat preceding November 30. NSW appears to be one of the only Diaspora communities in the world which honours its Mizrahi members in this extensive manner.

This year’s annual event will feature another set of personal stories, including one from Eitan Madar, whose background is Yemenite. 2017 marks the 70th anniversary of the pogrom against the Jews in Aden, Yemen, a murderous reaction to the 1947 Partition Plan. The 49-minute film “The Forgotten Refugees” will be screened and food made by the Sephardi Synagogue will be distributed. The event, from 6:30pm on Thursday November 30, is open to all. Location details provided on request by phone 9360 1600 or email mail@nswjbd.com.

If you were born in an Arab land or Iran and wish to interviewed as part of the Sydney Jewish Museum’s Mizrahi Stories project, email benmenashe@nswjbd.com .