Not only does this handsome, glossy hardcover include a gallery of stunning portraits making it a perfect gift and coffee table book, but the timing of its publication is essential. Henry Green and Richard Stursburg have captured the voices and faces of the still-living generation of Jews who have experienced firsthand — as children and adults — the great uprooting from their homelands in Africa and the Middle East in the twentieth century. This is not a book that lingers in distant histories of dead Jews, but one that puts front and center the ongoing stories of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews who have lost so much, struggled, and yet also rebuilt rich, meaningful lives in their new homelands, predominantly Israel, France, Canada, and the United States.
We are increasingly seeing more and better reports, historical research, and stories that appear about Jews from Islamic lands, not just in academia but also in the press and not the least on social media. In France and Israel, this rectification has in no small part been due to the fact that Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews make up the majority of the Jewish population and that they have contributed to an important revitalization of Jewish culture and joie de vivre in countries where the shadow of the Holocaust hangs heavily.
Publications on the topic in English have lagged behind, but books like Lyn Julius’s recent Uprooted: How 3000 Years of Jewish Civilization in the Arab World Vanished Overnight, and now Green and Stursburg’s stunning and much-anticipated contribution, help fill the lacunae on the topic. While the authors of Sephardi Voices have created an aesthetically pleasing publication, they also provide ample historical context to give the reader a solid sense of the generations of Jews that called places like Morocco, Tunisia, Iran, Iraq, and Ethiopia their homes.
Before 1948 there were 856,000 Jews, many self-identified as Arab Jews, living in Islamic lands; today, less than 4,315 remain. In 2014, the Israeli Government designated November 30th as Yom HaGerush, or Expulsion Day, a memorial day for Jewish refugees from Arab lands and Iran. This relatively recent annual marking incentivizes Jewish communities around the world to create programs that commemorate this unique history and legacy.
Finally, Green and Stursburg provide many relevant sources — organizations, films, video archives with interviews and testimonies, and books — for the readers to turn to for more information. But their greatest accomplishment is that they have made these stories come alive on the page. Through intimate glimpses and snapshots of life before, during, and after expulsion, we glean a vast collage of human destinies. The dramatic studio portraits — artistic close ups in black and white — give a sense of intimacy and urgency; “I’m talking to you,” the faces seem to say, “and my story matters.”