The Plight of Jews from Arab Lands and Iran

November 20, 2015 by Roz Tarszisz
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An inaugural event in Sydney designed to inform the Jewish and wider community about the history of Jewish refugees of the Middle East is planned for November 30.

The Plight of Jews from Arab Lands and Iran will look at a huge, and usually omitted, part of the story of the Israel/Palestinian conflict and significant events in modern Middle Eastern history.

Ruth Harvey

Ruth Harvey

During the 19th and 20th centuries the Egyptian Jewish community flourished as Jews arrived from  many countries.  Some became prominent in banking, international trade and commerce.
After the State of Israel was declared in 1948, they became the target of anti-Jewish violence and by 1956 were abruptly expelled. People lost everything overnight.

Dinah Danon was born in Cairo and left as a girl in 1954. Her maternal family originally came from Austria and her great­- grandfather was the official photographer for Ferdinand de Lesseps, developer of the Suez Canal.

She recalls her mother volunteering at a Jewish orphanage and being taught by strict nuns at the Catholic school she attended.   Her husband, Bert Danon, can trace his family tree back 500 years to Seville, Spain.    When he and his family were expelled from Egypt in 1957 they were only allowed to take clothing and a few Egyptian dollars.

Bert attended an English school in Cairo and remembers getting the day off when Prince Charles was born. He told J-Wire

“Jews often became more Egyptian and some wore the tarboosh, the distinctive red hat with a tassel.  Often well integrated, they felt they belonged. There were possibly about 80,000 Jews in Egypt before 1956 and now there might be just a handful of elderly women left …. as far as anyone knows” he said.

In Arab lands

In Arab lands

Bert and Dinah recalled the establishment of the Sephardi Synagogue in Woollahra, Sydney and how Middle Eastern and Indian Jews did not receive the same help, or respect,  in resettling as those who came from Eastern Europe.

Both Israeli­-born Ruth Harvey’s parents came from Libya and migrated to Israel.  Her father told her that although he had blue eyes and fair skin, when potential employers realised he was from Libya, they looked down on him despite a good education and proficiency in languages.

In Tripoli her mother’s family got on well with their Muslim and Christian neighbours . When a Muslim mob came looking for Jews in 1945, it was a Muslim neighbour who saved them.

Harvey keeps her heritage alive through preparation of traditional dishes, passed down from her grandmother and mother..  She learned to speak Arabic by listening to adult conversations in the home and appreciates her cultural heritage.

arab 400

Members of the Herzl Club of Benghazi, Libya, circa 1920

One dish she likes to prepare is couscous made from scratch – not out of a packet – in the traditional way, where she works semolina with her hands and then steams it.  It’s usually served for Shabbat dinner along with a spicy fish dish called chrymeh.  She hopes her children will carry on the tradition.

For almost three decades from 1973 Canadian Judy Feld Carr helped support and secretly remove 3,228 Syrian Jews (out of a total of 4,500 living there when she started) who were prohibited from leaving but treated very badly. The final group of Syrian Jews arrived in New York just before the attack on the World Trade Centre in September 2001 and many now live in Israel.

These are just a few stories of Jews from Arab Lands. There will be personal testimonies and keynote speakers at the evening which will be hosted by the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies.

The Plight of Jews from Arab Lands and Iran will be held on November 30 from 6-8pm at The Sydney Jewish Museum .

Contact Lynda Ben-Menashe for more information.  E:

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