The “Farhud,” Arabic for “violent dispossession,” was a pro-Nazi massacre against Baghdad Jewry that took place from June 1-2, 1941 – coinciding with the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. This terrible tragedy resulted in the death of hundreds of Sephardi Jews, marked the first step in ending 27 centuries of peaceful Jewish existence in Iraq and Mesopotamia, and ultimately led to the expulsion of 850,000 Jews from the Middle East into Israel.
June 1-2, 2016 marks the Farhud’s 75th anniversary. To commemorate this little-known tragedy, Edwin Black, New York Times bestselling author of “The Farhud: Roots of the Arab-Nazi Alliance in the Holocaust,” will hold four commemoration ceremonies within a 24-hour span, in Washington, D.C., NYC, London, and Israel.
The Farhud is often referred to as the “forgotten pogrom,” Black explained, and is a tragedy in itself that Black is trying to correct. It’s “forgotten” because its victims were from the Arab world, and the Holocaust only refers to the attempt to wipe-out European Jewry. As a result, many Jews and non-Jews alike have never heard of the Farhud. Through his book, his Times of Israel article (“The expulsion that backfired: When Iraq kicked out its Jews“), and his nationally-televised commemoration ceremonies, Black has thrown himself into a whirlwind process of Farhud education and commemoration.
The first Farhud ceremony took place this morning at the U.S. House of Representatives. LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus addressed the audience on why the State of Israel is important as a remnant of the Farhud. After Jews were vilified and expelled from Arab countries to Israel in the 1940s-1950s, they are again facing the same vilification from the same countries that forced them out today, Marcus explained. Zionism is seen as a criminal movement and Jews are seen as its perpetrators. “It is important to remember the Farhud,” Marcus said, “because anti-Semitism is a continuing fight. We are seeing a resurgence of anti-Semitism now, after years of things improving. We need to make sure this hatred is gone so that we will never again have a Farhud.”
Marcus was joined by Sarah Stern, President of EMET, Alyza Lewin, President of American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, and Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of Bnai Tzedek, among others, for a very informative, meaningful and moving ceremony.
Rabbi Weinblatt pointed out that the Hebrew saying, “Kol Yisroel Aravim Zeh La’Zeh,” meaning “all Jews are responsible for each other, and our entire world,” is very fitting for the Farhud. The Farhud helps us understand the roots of what is happening today in the Middle East.
Maurice Shohet, President of the World Federation of Jews from Iraq and the son of two Farhud survivors, spoke of the righteous Muslims during the Farhud who protected their Jewish acquaintances. In fact, a Muslim farmer – Salmani Barak – hid Shohet’s mother’s family, and saved their lives.
Though 27 candles are typically lit for the commemoration of the 27 centuries of Jewish life that was destroyed, due to House safety rules, one symbolic yahrzeit-style candle was lit by two representatives of the Iraqi Jewish community. It was then snuffed out – to signify how quickly Jewish life in Iraq was snuffed out.
Rabbi Haim Ovadia of Magen David Sephardic Synagogue blew eight and a half blasts into a shofar, to signify the 850,000 Jews that were expelled. The ceremony ended with a beautiful musical rendition of “El Malei Rachamim,” by Rachel Black – traditionally an Ashkenazi hymn, but invoked to show that though the Farhud directly involved Sephardi Jewry, it is a shared tragedy amongst all Jews; and the lighting of candle – for Israel – by Joshua Block, President & CEO of the Israel Project.
“In every place where Jews are discriminated against,” said Deputy Head of the Embassy of Israel to the United States Reuven Azar, “we cannot stand idly by, because others will be discriminated against, too. We must study and teach the Farhud.”
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Alvin H. Rosenfeld Alvin Rosenfeld is Director of The Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism, the Irving M. Glazer Chair in Jewish Studies and Professor of Jewish Studies and English at Indiana University in Bloomington.