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
OPINION MAKERS AT LUNCH The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies Luncheon Club continues to see opinion-makers engage with the community around a boardroom table. Recent speakers included Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen MP, Israel’s foremost expert on counter-terrorism Professor Boaz Ganor, Member for Ku-ring-gai Alister Henskens SC MP and Deputy Premier, Minister for Justice and Police Troy Grant MP.
About 1300 people packed the Recital Hall at Angel Place to commemorate 70 years since the Holocaust and the Liberation from the Nazi camps.
A strong delegation of diplomats and politicians joined ethnic and faith leaders and members of the Jewish community at the moving ceremony. Assistant Treasurer Josh Frydenberg MP, the keynote speaker. described his experience representing Australia at a ceremony at Auschwitz-Birkenau this year, where a number of his family members perished.
Hans Korten, the son of a Dutch couple who sheltered and saved the life of a young Jewish girl, was presented with a Righteous Among the Nations medal on behalf of his parents by Israeli Ambassador Shmuel Ben-Shmuel on behalf of Yad Vashem.
About 350 students from 19 Sydney schools have participated in the Board of Deputies’ “Respect, Understanding, Acceptance” schools harmony program this year to date.
The schools included three which are new to the program – Rose Bay Secondary College, Ravenswood and Amity College. The sessions were held at the Sydney Jewish Museum.
The program includes presentations on the predominant cultural background of each school and a discussion on racism, with students sharing their personal experiences. The program aims to engender respect for diversity and the need to speak out against bigotry.