As Uriel Heilman reports in the latest edition of B’nai B’rith Magazine, while nearly 1 million Jews once lived in the Middle East and North Africa, today only some 50,000 remain. He writes: “In countries where autocratic regimes are the rule and Islamic anti-Semitism an omnipresent threat, the Jews’ well-being depends on good relations with those in power.”
In the article, “Reluctant Exiles: Jews from North Africa and the Middle East,” Heilman explains how the independence movements that swept the region as the State of Israel was being born “went hand-in-hand with a surge in Arab nationalism and anti-Zionism that replaced the tolerant attitude Muslims had held toward local Jews for generations.” Tolerant, maybe, but still frighteningly uncertain.
Of the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were forced to leave their homes in Middle Eastern and North African countries due to expulsion and pogroms, most went to Israel, though many French-speaking Jews from North Africa relocated to France. Many Jews from later migrations, like the Syrian Jewish exodus and the Jews who left Iran at the time of the 1979 revolution came to the United States. It has taken decades to provide restitution to these Jewish families who in many cases left with nothing more than a suitcase.
As B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin notes in the story, “Generally speaking, in terms of the media, diplomacy, general public opinion, this story has not been told. It’s important now that this story be known.” He added: “While restitution is certainly important, so is recognition. These communities have finally gotten the recognition due them.”
Elsewhere in the spring edition of B’nai B’rith Magazine, we share the story of the NBA’s first Israeli player, Sacramento Kings forward Omri Casspi, and his passionate cohort of Israeli flag-sporting fans. Another feature examines the fascinating and nuanced history of Jewish music’s influence on the Great American Songbook.
And just in time for the upcoming Passover holiday, you can also read about how Jews in small-town America gather to celebrate the spring festival.
To read the magazine visit: www.bnaibrith.org/magazines.