Rabbi Elie Abadie, co-president of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, spoke to the audience of his family’s ordeal in leaving first Syria, then Lebanon. Abadie told of his mother 's and father’s harrowing escape from Syria, which included his father hiding on a train and narrowly avoiding discovery by Syrian officials.
Growing up in Lebanon, Abadie said he and his family were officially classified as refugees, but life was extremely difficult until they were able to emigrate from the country.
Israeli Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Reuven Azar spoke next, discussing the importance of keeping these stories alive. The Israeli Knesset this year designated November 30 as a national day of commemoration of the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab lands and Iran; the Washington event took place the same week, in conjunction with that date.
Ira Forman, the State Department's special envoy for monitoring and combating anti-Semitism, also joined the program, reflecting on the current size of Jewish communities in Arab and Muslim countries, compared to 1947.
He noted that communities formerly ranging from tens to hundreds of thousands of Jews had now dwindled down to single digits—or none at all.
Maurice Shohet, president of the U.S.-based World Organization of Jews from Iraq, told the story of his family’s escape from Iraq. Shohet said he and his immediate family elected to stay behind after many of his other family members and friends moved to Israel and reported back on the tough conditions that awaited Jewish immigrants.
Eventually Shohet and his family were smuggled out of the country, but not before a close call with Iraqi security forces.
Shohet also talked about the rescue of Jewish archival items in the early days of the Iraq war. These items were restored by the National Archives and placed on exhibition in Washington, D.C. and New York. Shohet's presentation featured a screening of the film "What We Left Behind," produced by Dr. Henry Green of the Sephardi Voices organization, which recounted this process.
Eric Fusfield, B'nai B'rith's director of legislative affairs and one of the event's organizers, told the audience that the work of commemorating the Jewish heritage of the Arab and Muslim world and promoting the rights of those refugee populations is ongoing. "The goal of our efforts is to underscore the vast, centuries-old Jewish legacy in Arab countries and Iran, which was largely erased in the 20th century as a result of the Middle East conflict. The November 30 anniversary that Israel has designated for purposes of commemorating the expulsion of Jews from the Arab and Muslim world is essential to this end."
“Unfortunately we’ve lost a lot of time on keeping this narrative alive, but it’s important to our community that we don’t forget the suffering of the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were forced from their homes in the Middle East,” B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin said.
“We heard some powerful testimonies at this event. We must keep working to ensure these personal accounts and the memories of once-vibrant Middle Eastern Jewish communities don’t fade from our communal or global consciousness.”
B’nai B’rith International has issued the following statement:
B’nai B’rith International is horrified over the suspected anti-Semitic attack on a young Jewish couple in the eastern Paris suburb of Creteil. This incident is another on the list of anti-Semitic attacks that have been on the rise in Europe, and especially in France.
Earlier this week three armed assailants broke into the home of the Jewish couple. The assailants restrained them, ransacked the home, raped the woman and withdrew money from their bank accounts. During the terrifying ordeal, the attackers reportedly shouted anti-Semitic insults at the couple, demanding to know where they hid their money because they were Jewish.
B’nai B’rith International commends the police for acting swiftly and arresting two suspects and charging a third in this case. We hope that those guilty of this heinous crime will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
This attack points to, once again, the need for European governmental and law enforcement officials to engage in proactive efforts to counter what has become an alarming spike in wanton attacks on Jews.
Winter 2014 Issue Also Highlights the Jews of Spain and the Kosher Food Boom
In the face of seemingly endless conflict, Israeli hospitals continue to provide Syrian and Palestinian patients with high-quality, low-cost medical care. Writer Michele Chabin speaks with many of the medical professionals and patients. She reports that the patients, many of them children, receive high-quality, affordable care.
The Israeli institutions do this as an expression of “tikkun olam”—the Jewish commitment to repair the world. Medical personnel treat many patients with life-threatening conditions, transcending politics and national boundaries.
Elsewhere in the issue, writer Miranda Spivack explores why Spain has been largely immune to the anti-Semitic incidents and anti-Israel protests that spread across Europe this year. There is even talk of granting citizenship to Sephardic Jews who can prove ancestral links to Spain, thereby recognizing and making amends for its historic persecution dating back to the Inquisition and expulsion order of 1492.
The kosher food business in the United States—valued at more than $12.5 billion annually—is booming, according to writer Uriel Heilman, who reports that most of the customers for kosher food today are non-Jews looking for healthier, higher quality products.
B’nai B’rith International President Allan J. Jacobs devotes his column to Chanukah’s rich history and reviews the many accomplishments of B’nai B’rith this calendar year.
In his regular column, B’nai B’rith Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin discusses B’nai B’rith’s recent Policy Forum in Panama and the organization’s fight against anti-Semitism in Latin America.
Rachel Goldberg, B’nai B’rith’s director of aging policy, in her “About Seniors” section advises readers on how to prepare financially for retirement and discusses the growing issue of a retirement deficit.
All this and more can be found in the current issue of B’nai B’rith Magazine.
And for exclusive digital content, visit the magazine website: www.bnaibrith.org/magazines