Remembering the One Million Jewish Refugees from Arab Lands

Posted on 12/08/2023 @ 05:00 AM

Tags: CAJE Spotlight

Moshe Labi at age 3, with his brother Aldo and their parents, Benghazi, Libya, 1934. Image from Sephardi Voices: The Untold Expulsion of Jews from Arab Lands

On December 3rd, CAJE in partnership with AJC Miami and BrowardSephardi

Voices and the Greater Miami Jewish Federation commemorated Yom HaPlitim, a day dedicated to remembering the expulsion of one million Jews from Arab lands and their heritage after the founding of the State of Israel


Rabbi Efrat Zarren-Zohar, the Executive Director of CAJE, the Center for the Advancement of Jewish Education, was asked to give an address to the attendees and this is an excerpt from what she wrote:


I personally became aware of the rich culture and traumatic dislocation of Mizrahim (Jews from Arab Lands) when I married into a Moroccan-Israeli family in 1991.


Most Mizrachi Jews (with the exception of Moroccans who came to Israel for Zionistic reasons) were forced to leave their countries of origin because of government-sponsored pogroms, mob-initiated riots, and other antisemitic attacks following the creation of the State of Israel in 1948


Yet, most Jews as well as others in the world don’t perceive them as refugees.


Thus, one should ask: Why are Mizrachi Jews not perceived to be “refugees,” as Palestinians are, for example?


The answer is… that Israel and other countries absorbed them as full citizens.  


Israel, in particular, gave them housing and jobs, built communities for them to live and brought resources to integrate them into the society.


In contrast, when Palestinians from Israel became refugees as a consequence of Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, the surrounding Arab countries, with the exception of Jordan, refused to grant them citizenship, relegating them to the refugee status they find themselves in today 75 years later.


Nonetheless, even Jordan, [and I should add the United Nations], still identify these Jordanian citizens as Palestinian refugees.


And who gets blamed for this decision by Arab and Palestinian leaders to invade the Land of Israel in 1948 that led to the displacement of some Palestinians as refugees?


Naturally, Israel is blamed for their situation, even though it was the leadership of the surrounding Arab nations as well as local Palestinian leaders and fighters who initiated the attacks on Israel that began the Independence War, which Palestinians call “The Naqba” or “Catastrophe.”


The events of October 7th in many ways are a déjà vu of 1948.  


Hamas initiated a war with Israel and then shortly thereafter, much of the world blamed Israel for the humanitarian catastrophe that is transpiring within Gaza right now.  


We at CAJE are discussing how we can learn from the past and the Mizrahi displacement narrative. 


One of the ideas we are discussing is to hold a full-day symposium on Israel education post-October 7th for all faculty, Jewish and non-Jewish, sometime in the upcoming year.  


We must begin the process of creating pedagogy to understand the lessons of October 7th within the context of Jewish and Israeli history.


As thought leaders in the field of Jewish education, CAJE- the Center for the Advancement of Jewish Education is committed to re-envision how teaching Israel and Jewish history must include the story of Mizrachi/Sephardi Jewish displacement in our day schools and supplementary schools (Hebrew schools). 


Without a doubt, the Mizrahi Jewish refugee story must be learned by our teachers and taught to their students.


No Jewish teen should go off to college without knowing that a million Jews were made refugees after 1948 by the Arab countries they had inhabited for thousands of years.


No Jewish adult should be ignorant of this fact either!


If you, or anyone you know, would like to be a partner with CAJE in undertaking this challenge, please let us know by emailing Rabbi Efrat Zarren-Zohar

Sephar­di Voic­es: The Untold Expul­sion of Jews from Arab Lands

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