Remembering the Jews of Arab Lands

The dissolution of the Jewish communities of the Arab world is commemorated on November 30.

by
Europeana Foundation

The 20th century has seen massive demographic shifts around the globe. Some are well known, like the millions of Europeans who crossed the Atlantic to seek fortune in North America, or the upheaval caused by the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947.

Others, however, have remained less noted, like the dissolution of the Jewish communities of the Arab world which is commemorated every year on November 30.

In 1947 it was estimated that over a million Jews lived in the Middle East and North Africa. Many of these communities had been existing for centuries and formed an integral part of the larger Arab societies in which they lived.

black and white photograph of a younger man speaking with an older man who wears a hooded garment, another man stands in the background in front of a wall with Hebrew writing

Jews in Southern Morocco, c.1930, Center of the Judeo-Moroccan Culture. In Copyright - Educational Use Permitted

In the first half of the 20th century Jewish communities flourished throughout the Arab world, with the European interest in the Middle East and North Africa bringing new economic and educational opportunities.

Furthermore, Jewish philanthropic organizations such as the Alliance Israélite Universelle, the Anglo-Jewish Association, and the American Joint Distribution Committee partnered with local communities to build schools, develop vocational training programs and provide medical care.

black and white photograph of a young woman using a piece of equipment

Jewish girl receiving vocational training in Casablanca, c. 1960, Center of the Judeo-Moroccan Culture. In Copyright - Educational Use Permitted

black and white photograph of a group of people among a large amount of suitcases

Jews preparing to leave Morocco for Israel, c. 1960, Center of the Judeo-Moroccan Culture. In Copyright - Educational Use Permitted

Yet from 1947 until 1973, these communities were uprooted, and today virtually no Jews are left in the Arab world. The reasons for the emigration of Jews from the Arab world are numerous. Some left due to the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. Although many also left as a result of local, political, and economic instability caused by decolonisation and nationalist movements.

The majority of Jews from the Arab world migrated to Israel as this was the only country that would accept them. Some were forced to flee with barely the clothes on their backs, whereas others had more time to prepare for their departure.

Left and Right: Newly arrived immigrants in Israel, 1962
Center of the Judeo-Moroccan Culture. In Copyright - Educational Use Permitted

Many Jews from North Africa managed to immigrate into France, thanks to the 1870 Crémieux Decree granting French citizenship to Jews living in the coastal region of Algeria. Others were able to settle in Europe owing to their education in French, English or Italian.

black and white photograph, standing group of people

Marseille, newly arrived Jewish immigrants from North Africa, c. 1960
Center of the Judeo-Moroccan Culture. In Copyright - Educational Use Permitted

Today, France has the third-largest Jewish community in the world, due to the wave of North African Jewish immigrants in the 1960s and 1970s.

By the close of the 20th century, only a few thousand Jews still lived in the Arab world. However, their rich cultural heritage continues to be preserved wherever their communities have resettled.

Moroccan art - Vases, lanterns, rugs
Center of the Judeo-Moroccan Culture. In Copyright - Educational Use Permitted

By Sasha Goldstein-Sabbah, Jewish Cultural Quarter Amsterdam

The images used in this blog that are In Copyright were used with permission of JHN - the Jewish Heritage Network.

Feature image: Man with fez and girl at a round table with crockery and candlesticks, 1996, Han Singels, Jewish Historical Museum, In copyright

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