Today, more than half of Israel’s Jewish population belongs to families that emigrated or were expelled from Arab and Muslim countries in the years following the creation of the State of Israel. Their absorption into Israel was often accompanied by much hardship. Jewish immigrants from Arab countries often arrived with little more than the clothes on their backs, and were shunted off to Israel’s geographic , economic, and social periphery. Despite much improvement in certain respects, there are still significant hurdles to overcome. According to some studies, Jews of Misrachi backgrounds are still more likely to require social welfare services, and are still less likely to access a university education.
Those who were more successfully absorbed into the Israeli “melting pot” paid a terrible price for their success: they abandoned their language, their culture, their traditions, and their history. This trauma was “swept under the rug” and received only marginal attention, if at all, from the official Israeli school curricula. As a result, mainstream Israeli society is not aware of the rich story of such a large part of the Jewish people.
The Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies and the Tisch School of Film and Television at Tel Aviv University, together with the Babylonian Heritage Museum in Or Yehuda, are now working together on a project that will take significant steps to ensure that the stories of the Jews of Arab Lands will be preserved and remembered, so that this remarkable history will be researched in universities, preserved in scholarly literature and in film, and will be taught as a required subject in secondary schools. It is our responsibility to ensure that these stories are heard and continue to be heard in the generations to come. We believe that knowledge is power and with it we can continue to reduce the social and cultural gaps in the State of Israel today, and can continue the imperative work of the “ingathering of the exiles” promised by Moses and brought to fruition by the emergence of an independent Jewish and democratic State of Israel.
Through multi-disciplinary cooperation, and by engagement with critical community stakeholders in Israel and abroad, this program will build the necessary research infrastructure for years to come. It will support projects being undertaken by the most outstanding scholars currently in the field, and will train the next generation of scholars wishing to specialize in telling the story of the Jews of Arab Lands – whether through an academic / historical lens, or through a cinematic one.
Ultimately, we hope to build a curriculum which will form part of the mandatory matriculation exam for Israeli secondary schools, and to produce documentary films which will together assist in spreading knowledge and awareness of this subject to Israeli society.