Know this Heritage - World Jewish Congress

Know this Heritage

The legacy of Jewish communities across the Middle East and North Africa

WATCH: A conversation on Egypt’s Jewish community

Middle East spotlight: Jewish community of Cairo and Safeguarding of Jewish Heritage of Egypt

President of the Jewish Community of Cairo Magda Haroun and Professor Yoram Meital spoke about the modern Jewish community in Cairo and steps the community is taking to safeguard Egypt’s Jewish Heritage.

Jewish communities across the Middle East and North Africa have long been underrepresented in wider conversations about the rich cultural heritage of this complex region. As we have seen the warming of relations between the State of Israel and the Arab world, we have also witnessed a renewed interest – both locally and internationally – in the unique history of these now small communities that were once a significant cultural forces.

Formerly prominent components of civil society in nearly every country across the MENA region, today, Jewish communities remain in Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, and Yemen. These now small and historic communities are the torchbearers of this millennia long heritage. Additionally, there are now growing communities forming in the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

The World Jewish Congress is pleased to provide you with a glimpse of the history and narratives behind these communities.

An Emerging Community: Spotlight on the United Arab Emirates

Ross Kriel, Jewish Council of the Emirates president, describes the community’s formation over the last decade and its emotional response to the recent announcement of normalized relations between the UAE and Israel.

Jewish legacy across the Arab world

The Story of Leila Murad

Over the course of her career, Leila Murad reached nearly unparalleled fame, leaving her mark on Arabic music and cinema.  Leila appeared in several best-selling musicals throughout her, becoming Egypt's top actress in the early 1940s. In 1953, she was even selected as the official singer of the Egyptian revolution. Public outrage after false reports surfaced that she had visited Israel and donated money to the IDF took a toll on her health and reputation. She surprised her fans by retiring in 1956, at age 38, and completely removed herself from public life. Despite her early retirement, her contribution to Arab music and cinema is undeniable with 27 films and nearly 1200 songs.

The Impact of Togo Mizrahi

When people think of Jewish directors and actors they often look towards Hollywood. But Jewish artists were also central to the development of the Arab film industry. One of the leading producers was Togo Mizrahi, an Egyptian Jew. During the 1940’s, he was one of the most prolific filmmakers in the country. This is his story.

The Resilience of Esther Azhari Moyal

Born in Beirut in 1873, Esther Azhari Moyal was considered a key intellectual in the 20th-century Nahḍa, or Arab Renaissance. In the 1890s, she began to write, mostly on women’s issues, for several Arab journals. Moving to Cairo in 1899, she launched a trail-blazing journal called al-ʿĀʾila (The Family) and began translating novels from European languages into Arabic. She finally settled in Israel where she continued her critical work. This is her story.

The Music of the al-Kuwaiti Brothers

Brothers Daud and Ṣalāḥ al-Kuwaiti Brothers were born in the early 1900s in the Jewish quarter of Kuwait City. In the early 1930s, the brothers moved to Iraq, where their talent for music flourished in the thriving cultural environment of Baghdad. Their careers placed them in front of Arab royalty, and their music flooded the airwaves. Sadly, their story has been all but lost – until now. This is their story.

The Legacy of Albert Samama Chikly

Jewish presence in North Africa dates back thousands of years. In Tunisia, one Jew was instrumental in bringing his country into the 20th century. Albert Samama Chikly introduced the bicycle, X-Ray, and radio to North Africa. But he is often overlooked for the impact he had on Arab cinema. This is his story.

The Humanity of Shalom Darwish

Born in Amarra, Iraq in 1913, Shalom Darwīsh is considered one of the pioneers of modern Iraqi literature. His stories exhibit innovation in language, style, and content, as well as deep humanity. Darwīsh was elected to parliament as a member of the National Democratic Party but resigned in protest of electoral corruption. Labeled a Zionist, he fled Iraq, eventually settling in Israel. This is his story.

From Our Voice

Remembering the Jews from the Middle East and North Africa

“As Western countries and institutions celebrated the fall of fascism and the end of its evils, and sought to repair the traumatic ravages of World War II, a new dark chapter of exodus was being written for the Jews of the Middle East. With the rise of Arab nationalism in the 20th century, the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa became a highly discriminated and vulnerable minority,” writes WJC Jewish Diplomatic Corps member Sara Galico.

Jews from Middle East and North Africa: A neglected narrative

“The lack of international recognition of the plight of these Jewish refugees is shocking. It is crucial for us as Jews, and as humanitarians, to raise awareness of this seminal moment in Jewish history. The Jews who once lived in the MENA region – and their descendants – deserve recognition of their history, origin, and heritage,” writes WJC Jewish Diplomatic Corps member Aaron Serota.

Expelled: The untold story of a Middle Eastern and North African experience

“They did not ask to be dispossessed. Their plight, a result of political dynamics abroad, external to their lives: the forces fighting the Arab Israeli War of Independence in Palestine. The fighting there would change their lives forever,” writes WJC Jewish Diplomatic Corps member Zach Silverberg.

More from the Gulf Region

Middle East spotlight: Bahrain and the Kingdom’s Jewish Community

H.E. Shaikh Abulla Bin Rashid Al Khalifa, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Bahrain to the United States of America, discusses the history and future of Bahrain’s relationship with Jewish community.