An Evening to Mark the Departure and Expulsion of Jews from the Arab Countries and Iran
Last night, on 30th November we gathered at JW3 to remember and celebrate the Sephardi/Mizrahi experience. The event commemorated the 65th anniversary of the Suez Crisis, during which time all French and English nationals - including many Jews - were expelled from the country.
You can watch our film about the Suez Crisis and our aftermath here:
The event to mark this day at JW3 was powerful, moving and inspiring. The highlight of the event was hearing Sephardi Voices UK interviewee Viviane Bowell, author of the memoir, To Egypt with Love, in conversation with Hen Mazzig, Sephardi activist and Senior Fellow at the Tel Aviv Institute.
We also heard from Lyn Julius, from Harif.org, who commissioned our Suez Crisis Film, Chair of Sephardi Voices UK Alec Nacamuli, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews Marie van der Zyl, co-Chief Executive of the Jewish Leadership Counci Claudia Mendoza, Director of Public Diplomacy at the Israeli Embassy Efrat Perri, poet Yvonne Green and Senior Rabbi of the S&P Sephardi Community, Rabbi Joseph Dweck.
Rabbi Dweck spoke powerfully of the need to pass on and be proud of our heritage, saying, 'The celebration of Chanukah is the light of identity. […] A candle, a flame, that’s all we need to remember, and we keep it burning. And that is what tonight is, really. This is a recognition of the struggle against all odds, to insist on our identity. To recognise it, remember it, and make it light'.
30th November is the designated international day for remembrance and recognition of the Sephardi/Mizrahi experience.
Jews have lived in the Middle East, North Africa and Iran since ancient times. When the Sephardi Jews of Spain and Portugal were expelled in the 15th century, many were welcomed by the Ottoman Empire. These Sephardi Jews joined the local Jewish communities and put down roots. The rise of nationalism and broader global politics meant that from the mid-20th century Sephardi and Mizrahi Jewish communities began to leave the region. Many were dispossessed and expelled, others left to escape worsening political and economic climates.
It is estimated that no more than 6% of Jews in the UK are from the Middle East, North Africa or Iran. Despite this small number, Jewish people from these regions have made a large impact on British society. Amongst our interviewees are prominent business people, authors, artists, politicians, musicians, composers, physicians, Rabbis, philanthropists and photographers.
Joe Hyman, speaking on behalf of JW3, summarised the importance of events such as these, and the work Sephardi Voices UK does, by saying, 'Being a witness to stories is a vital part of our community. And not just something that happens, it’s something that makes us responsible for sharing those stories outside of the spaces that we hear them'.
You can watch the full event here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfO6QgKrt8I