My name is Lyn Julius, co-founder of Harif, the UK Association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa.
Harif is a small group of volunteers who arrange talks, film screenings and advocate for the rights of ex-refugees from Arab countries and Iran. We are not just Sephardim and Mizrahim, in fact several Ashkenazim are prominent in the international campaign for justice.
Jewish public life in the UK is still dominated by Ashkenazi men, but gender becomes irrelevant in the struggle to raise awareness of the history and culture of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa, known as Mizrahim (Easterners) and Sephardim.
The publication of my book ‘UPROOTED: How 3,000 Years of Jewish civilisation in the Arab World vanished overnight’ marks a watershed in my work. It represents the first attempt to focus on the exodus and its causes, and is the result of over 10 years’ cumulative research on Harif’s associated blog, Point of No Return.
Suddenly my diary is filling up with speaking engagements and the prospect of a North American book tour. But a still greater challenge remains: How do we get the story of the Mizrahi exodus into the mainstream?
Although more than half the Jews of Israel hail from Arab and Muslim countries, the global news media systematically exclude the story of the Jewish refugees. Where Jews from Arab countries are mentioned, they are either portrayed as victims of Zionism or their history is misrepresented.
In Israel, Mizrahi women have been empowered to go out to work and get themselves an education- once denied them in patriarchal Arab societies. There are more women of Mizrahi origin in government than ever before. In terms of culture, Israel is more ‘Middle Eastern’ than ever, and female Mizrahi and Sephardi artistes, like the A-wa band and Maggi Hikri, Sarit Haddad, Rita and Yasmin Levy, are all playing their part. Meanwhile Jews all over the world are being seduced by the mouth-watering and colourful dishes of the Mizrahi kitchen. Mizrahi Woman are going places!