Arabic and English website tells story of Middle Eastern Jews

A Libyan Jewish family. Today there are no Jews left in Libya.

A Libyan Jewish family. Today there are no Jews left in Libya.

A non-profit organisation, modelled on Holocaust research groups, has launched 11 new websites to detail the exodus of Jews from 11 countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

The story of more than 850,000 Jews who fled to North America from Iran, Turkey and nine Arab countries during the 20th century has been documented in a series of videos, photographs and testimonies by the US-based organisation Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (Jimena).

Jimena Director Sarah Levin said the collection of stories, photos and recipes in both Arabic and English would "enable us to reach individuals in Arabic speaking countries who otherwise may know very little of the Jewish history of the region.

"So many stories of Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews have not been documented and shared with audiences around the world.

"This project was partially inspired by various international efforts to document and share testimonies of Holocaust survivors."

Testimonies on the Jimena site come from Jews who fled Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen.

Iran-born Laudie Freed, who left Tehran in 1966, said experiences of "some of the Jews in Iran were like the Jews in Germany. After all the oil money had poured into the country in the 1970s and the country was prosperous, [the Jewish community] didn't think anything could happen to them."

Ms Freed says her uncle Habib Elghanian, a well-known Iranian Jewish philanthropist, was executed for building a skyscraper in Tehran because "you cannot build a building higher than a mosque".

The mother of three also recalled a time when her father was called a "dirty Jew" as he tried to buy vegetables from a cart owner. "I have never been back to Iran and I never want to go back," says Ms Freed, who now lives in California. "I don't know how safe it is [for Jews] there."

Surprisingly, Ms Freed has praised Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has been accused of antisemitism and saying that Zionists control the world. "At least he speaks the truth of his heart and doesn't disguise it," she says. "He brings to light the true fanaticism in the Iranian government."

Luci Cohen-Zimering, from Tunisia, said she grew up in a Jewish area in Tunis at a time when "Jews were respected and highly ranked professionally. For Pesach, we all gathered around a table covered in a white table cloth and adorned with crystals," she recalled. She says in 1967, after the Six Day War, "Jews were attacked in the streets and the synagogue was burned." Returning to Tunisia in 2000 felt "like total chaos. The taxi driver could not even find the street where we lived because the names were different. The Great Synagogue was heavily guarded by soldiers for safety."

Doris Nachum, 53, recalled a mass of attacks against Jews in Libya, when the Six Day War started in 1967. She lived above a synagogue in Tripoli and reports that "whenever something happened in Israel - there would be Arabs out in the street rioting and looking for Jews. [At the start of the Six Day War] our home was the first target - they were banging at the door - it was horrible. They were chanting, 'kill the Jewish'." The family later escaped to Israel before Doris moved to the US in 1989. It is believed that 40,000 Jews lived in Libya in 1948. The number fell to 7000 in 1967 and today no Jews live there.

Last updated: 3:56pm, March 21 2013