For the almost 5000 Jews of Arab and Iranian descent residing in Sydney, formal acknowledgement of their history was a long time coming. The little known, and rarely discussed exodus of up to 900,000 Jews from Arab lands and Iran was commemorated at a moving ceremony hosted by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies in conjunction with the Sephardi Synagogue and the Sydney Jewish Museum
The event attracted over 370 people, and marked the first time that the Australian Jewish community had publically acknowledged and celebrated the history of the Mizrahi Jews, descending from Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Lebanon, Yemen, Morocco, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria and Kurdistan.
Dr Racheline Barda, historian of Egyptian Jewish descent, retold the history of the ‘forgotten refugees’ who now call Australia home. She told of the resilience of the refugees, and their commitment to reinventing themselves despite the pain, dispossession and dislocation that they inevitably experienced. Various other speakers told of their personal and familial links to their Arab homelands and the often arduous journeys that led them to be in Australia today.
Board of Deputies Community Relations Manager Lynda Ben-Menashe said in her closing remarks, “Like non-indigenous Australia generally, our Jewish community was built by waves of immigration. The stories of our immigrants from Arab lands and Iran have not been told or heard in the mainstream and we thank all of you here tonight, especially so many guests from the wider NSW community, who have come to listen to them.”
One Baghdadi Jewish woman, reflecting on the evening, acknowledged that the speakers brought distant memories flooding back, and also reminded her of how grateful she is to be in Australia.
A law passed in 2014 by Israeli MK Dr. Shimon Ohayon, designated November 30 the day to recognise the plight of Arab refugees from Arab lands and Iran.
The event will be held annually in NSW as well, with even larger attendance expected in years to come.
Photos: Giselle Haber Photography