2020: Our Year in Review

Updated: Jun 29

This year has in many ways been a pivotal one for Sephardi Voices UK. As we come close to completing our original target of conducting 120 interviews, we are starting to turn to the future of Sephardi Voices UK. The next year will be an exciting one as we begin to fully explore the ways we can use our extensive archive to ensure the Sephardi and Mizrahi histories and cultures and traditions of our interviewees are fully integrated into the British Jewish collective memory.



A Message from our Director, Dr Bea Lewkowicz

As 2020 is coming to an end, I feel it is important to acknowledge what a difficult year this has been. We had to adapt ourselves to new lives and working practices, we had to get used to a different world. In our new world we suddenly really appreciate all the things we thought of as normal before, like visiting your relatives, spending time with our friends, giving somebody a hug, travelling to other places or simply going for a swim. Having recently lit the last Chanukah candle, I feel grateful to the many ‘lights’ which have accompanied us in this difficult year.


The fact that we learnt to connect to each other digitally was certainly one of the small miracles many of us experienced. For Sephardi Voices UK that meant that we could continue our interviews through Zoom (throughout the UK) and that we managed to hold online events, which brought our interviewees and supporters together with an international audience. These events ranged from discussing the visit to the recently renovated synagogue in Alexandria, the Jewish presence in Iraq, celebrating the 80th birthday of writer and critic Gabriel Jospipovici and discussing the future of Sephardi/Mizrahi heritage. I was very moved to see old friends connecting though this platform, and to be have been able to listen to questions from participating individuals who currently live in Alexandria and Baghdad.


So while I am looking forward to the new year and hope that the vaccine will bring us back to our ‘old normal’, I really appreciate the new ways we have learnt to stay in touch with each other and connect to people around the world. As the interest in digital content has grown immensely in the last year, Sephardi Voices UK is in a unique position to make our wonderful content even more accessible in the new year, by creating more educational resources in new innovative ways.

I would like to thank you for your continued support and wish you a happy, healthy, and peaceful 2021!


Interviews:

Oral history interviews are a challenge in times of social distance. As restrictions have flowed and ebbed this year, we've innovated new ways to interview. We've felt it's very important to continue our work despite COVID-19, this year alone we have interviewed people from Morocco, Egypt, Aden, Sudan and Iraq.


We were particularly honoured to interview Senior S&P Rabbi Joseph Dweck in January. We spoke about the Sephardi and Mizrahi community in the UK, Rabbi Dweck's Syrian heritage, and the importance of cherishing our customs.


Films:

This year we have launched a new film series, Exploring our Past, which brings together the voices of multiple interviewees to tell a collective story.


Our most recent film, commissioned by Harif, celebrated 120 years of the Alliance Israélite Universelle schools, and brought together memories of old pupils from Morocco, Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq:


In June we commemorated the Farhud pogrom that broke out in Baghdad on the first day of Shavuot in 1941 and claimed over 200 Jewish lives:


In April we explored the often fraught and difficult issue of identity:


And as we all adjusted to life under lockdown we looked back at Pesach (Passover) in more physically connected times:



Online Events:

An unexpected positive during COVID-19 has been the growth of online events, and we have hosted six this year - each with an incredible audience and lively discussion. You can watch all of them here.


Two particular highlights were our discussion on the rededication of the Eliahu HaNavi Synagogue in Alexandria,


and our conversation with author Gabriel Jospovici, in which he shared unpublished writings with us.


We have also worked hard to ensure you can revisit older events digitally. Our Food, Exile and Memory event, which took place at the Sephardi Voices Jewish Museum exhibition in 2017 is now available to view online:

Please excuse the poor image quality in the first few minutes - we promise it improves!



The Archive:

The Sephardi Voices UK archive has always been accessible at the British Library Sound Archive, in London. It is now also available to view in person at Beit Hatfutsot, the Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, Israel. The museum tells the story of global Jewry and in 2005 was designated the "National Centre for Jewish communities in Israel and around the world" by the Israeli Knesset. By having our full archive available at this institution we have ensured the Sephardi Voices UK testimonies are part of the global Jewish story.


In addition to this, we have continued our interview series with Jewish Renaissance magazine, the entirety of which you can read here.



Our Online Presence:

At the start of the year we relaunched our social media channels, and by the summer we had completely redeveloped our website. We are extremely proud of what we have achieved, and we would like to extend a special thank you to Susanna Kleeman for her hard work on this huge task.


We were also thrilled to be invited to record a podcast with the brilliant Ask Historians platform on Reddit in October. You can listen to the whole episode here.


Donations

It is now possible to make donations to Sephardi Voices UK online.

Our mission is to record and capture the experiences of the Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews from the Middle East, North Africa and Iran who settled in the UK.

Our work is of utmost importance to the wider story of British Jewry, allowing researchers and members of the general public a window into the rich past of our interviewees. As well as contributing to the national archive, we also provide our interviewees with the opportunity to create a lasting, professionally filmed testimony of their lives that they will be able to share with their children, grandchildren and generations to come.


Our films, events and resources provide a vital educational role, allowing us to share our interviewees stories. We want to ensure Sephardi and Mizrahi history is freely available, easily accessible and fully integrated within the history of the Jewish people.


The Board of Deputies:

We are delighted to be a part of the Board of Deputies initiative, Hidden Treasures.

This brilliant resource is a celebration of Jewish archives in Britain. The project showcases collections from across the UK, that tell the story of Jews and their experiences in Britain.


Having given evidence to the Board of Deputies’ Commission on Racial Inclusivity, we also look forward to reading the Commission's results and hope to work with the BoD in implementing any relevant recommendations that are made.



Looking Forward:

As we continue to expand and consolidate our archive and as we move into 2021, we are excited for the opportunities the new year will bring.


We will leave you with some final words of wisdom from five of our interviewees, and wish you all a happy and healthy new year.


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