Secord tells the NSW parliament about the Sephardis’ Farhud

June 6, 2019 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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The Deputy Chair of the NSW Parliamentary Friends of Israel Walt Secord has spoken in the NSW parliament on the Sydney Sephardi Jewish community’s commemoration of the Farhud on 2 June.

Walt Secord’s address:

Walt Secord

It is part of a welcome development in recent years to mark significant events involving the Sephardi and Mizrachi community and their history.

In 2015 the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and the Sephardi community marked Farhud jointly for the first time and in 2020 the Sydney Jewish Museum is planning an exhibition on Jews from Arab lands.

While I have some knowledge of the Sephardi community, which stretches back to the 1980s when I was a journalist at The Australian Jewish News and my visits to Israel, I concede that I am more familiar with the Shoah and the destruction of European Jewry. However, I have become increasingly aware of the horrific events of 1941 and the expulsion of the Jewish community from Arab lands after the establishment of the State of Israel.

The Farhud was a pogrom in Iraq in 1 and 2 June 1941 and the phrase was coined by the Iraqi Kurdish population. It means “violent dispossession”, referring to the attacks on the Jewish community in Baghdad. Conservative estimates put the number of those murdered around 178, including 142 in Baghdad alone in the pogrom. Looting of Jewish property took place; 900 Jewish homes were destroyed and there were also rapes. A synagogue was invaded and its Torahs burned. Afraid to give the dead a proper burial, the corpses were buried in a mass grave.

The Farhud was an extraordinary development in the history of Iraq as there has been a Jewish presence there for more than 2,600 years, dating back to the destruction of the first temple in 586 BCE. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Jewish population of Iraq was estimated to be around 250,000, although it had decreased to 150,000 by the middle of the century.

From 1950 to 1952 up to 130,000 Jews were airlifted out of Iraq to Israel. They faced much discrimination, persecution and antisemitism after the establishment of the State of Israel and most were forced to flee from Iraq. The Sydney commemoration was a solemn and dignified affair.

I congratulate the Sephardi community and its president, Mr Shaul Meir Ezekiel, on organising the event. The Sydney Sephardi community spiritual leader, Rabbi Michael Chriqui, read a psalm. One of the other highlights was chatting and meeting the award-winning British-Bukharan Jewish poet, translator and barrister, Yvonne Green, who read from her work, The Farhud. The poem was commissioned for the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Farhud and was recited in the Israeli Knesset when it commemorated it.

Finally, I look forward to accepting the invitation from Mr Shaul Meir Ezekiel to visit the Sephardi Synagogue at Bondi Junction in the near future. I thank the House for its consideration.

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