Remembering the Jews from the Middle East and North Africa - World Jewish Congress

Remembering the Jews from the Middle East and North Africa

Remembering the Jews from the Middle East and North Africa

This op-ed, written by WJC Jewish Diplomatic Corps member Sara Galico, was originally published in the Mexico-based newspaper El Heraldo de México on 26 November 2020  

In 1945, Russian and American troops liberated the Nazi extermination camps finding them submerged in the disgusting stench of death with only a few survivors left, barely clinging to life. The blindfold that had covered the eyes of the world was suddenly lifted, bearing witness to the most brutal genocide in human history, the Holocaust. The systematic murder of millions of people - the vast majority Jews - in factories of death, marked a watershed moment in the history of humanity. 

From these events, the term genocide was coined by the international community, and the United Nations signed the declaration of Human Rights, with the goal of protecting all individuals, regardless of their religion, nationality, race, gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity, from ever having to face the same horrific fate. 

However, 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. 

In 1945, the region was home to 850,000 Jews, however, due to violence and hostility from their Arab neighbors, they began to flee as refugees to the British Mandate of Palestine. In 1948, with the imminent creation of the State of Israel, Arab leaders rejected a Jewish sovereign country, culminating in violence and forcing many Jewish communities to escape repressive conditions.  

This phenomenon was different in each of the countries of the Middle East and North Africa, but in general, vibrant Jewish communities disappeared, and synagogues and centers of culture were vandalized and destroyed. The Jewish life that had thrived in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, and Yemen for 2,000 years ceased to exist.  

Jewish migrants were smuggled across the desert and boarded onto ships, hoping to​ find abundance and peace in different corners of the world. They traveled with empty hands taking with them only their traditions, language, flavors, and customs. These refugees fled to  Israel, the United States, Mexico, Panama, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, and Spain, among their many destinations. Those men and women sowed their seeds in new countries, and planted their destiny, their children´s future, and their grandchildren´s future. They never returned to their homes, and they never looked back. 

I am the descendant of one such family of Jewish refugees. Out of mere chance, or fate, the ships that my maternal great-grandparents boarded from Syria, and my paternal grandfather boarded from Turkey, arrived in Veracruz, and I am lucky to be a proud Mexican citizen. My family settled in Mexico, a country that gave them peace and acceptance. I have many reasons to love my homeland, because here in Mexico we have been able to prosper as individuals, and as a Jewish community. 

However, I must admit that I belong to a melancholic people, steeped in the memory of our ancestors’ traditions. My Shabbat table always includes dishes of Arabic food, the blessing when I say goodbye to my children and husband in the morning is “Allah Ma’ak” (Arabic for “may God be with you”), and now, 75 years after the expulsion of the Jews from the Middle East, I have decided to write this text to remind the world of this painful chapter in the history of my people, of my family, and another chapter of darkness in which Jews were denied the protection of human rights. 

And yes, in a corner of my soul and the collective conscience of our community, it still hurts. 

The WJC Jewish Diplomatic Corps is the flagship program of the World Jewish Congress, under the vision and leadership of WJC President Ronald S. Lauder. This program empowers the new generations of outstanding Jewish leaders. A selective worldwide network of over 300 Jewish young professionals from 50 countries receiving opportunities, experience, and skills to impact Jewish interests through diplomacy and public policy.