"Leaving, never to return" - מוזיאון ארץ ישראל

“Leaving, never to return”
A Tribute to the Jews of Arab Countries and Iran

“Leaving, never to return!” pays tribute to the Jewish communities in Arab countries and Iran. The exhibition is part of a series of exhibitions at Musa – the Eretz Israel Museum, Tel Aviv that are devoted to the themes of immigration and multiculturalism in Israel. A display featuring selected artifacts from the cultures of 11 Jewish communities in the Muslim sphere invites viewers to share the journey that brought these communities to Israel.

The exhibition title was inspired by the words stamped on the exit certificates and suitcases of hundreds of thousands of Jews: رحلة بدون رجعة (literally: a trip with no return). Notwithstanding their sense of connection to the cultures of the Muslim countries in which they lived, Jews throughout the generations, and especially in the modern age, also suffered hardships that forced them to uproot themselves, transforming many of them into refugees. Although most of them longed to immigrate to Israel – in some cases leaving their countries for religious or Zionist reasons even prior to the foundation of Israel and to their mass deportation – the rupture with their countries of origin was a painful one. The experience of becoming Israeli in itself constituted a long and arduous journey, whose echoes continue to resonate in the present.

For over 2,500 years, hundreds of thousands of Jews lived in ancient and prosperous communities in North Africa and in the Middle East – in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Aden, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Exhibition visitors are invited to embark on a symbolic journey among the 11 communities in these countries, which ultimately leads to a twelfth country, Israel – the opening or closing of a circle. This journey is an introduction to the members of these communities and their customs, as well as to the voices of the second and third generations, which are represented by a series of changing artworks. Each of the artworks was created by a young Israeli artist inspired by his or her heritage.

The realization of this exhibition was, for me, a journey in time to the places in which my ancestors once lived as part of different Jewish communities, whose descendants currently constitute

more than half the population of the state of Israel. The cultural flourishing of these communities was also influenced by the Muslim environment, as attested to by the exhibits chosen to embody their history: sacred and everyday objects, photographs, documents, testimonies, video footage, and photographs. These exhibits contribute to deciphering a cultural, social, religious and political code of Jewish existence that persisted for thousands of years. The selection of a restricted set of objects was challenging, for each community has its own story, and differences can be found even among communities in the same country, such as the communities of Aleppo and Damascus in Syria or Alexandria and Cairo in Egypt.

At the same time, there are also common denominators shared by Jews living in Islamic countries, forging an inextricable connection between the members of these communities. This connection, which is evident throughout the exhibition, is given expression through the image of the tallit, which serves as a backdrop for the history of each community and its good and bad times. This image was inspired by an event that took place at the Jadu work camp in Libya during the Second World War, following the Nazi conquest: an officer entering a barrack crowded with some 100 inmates ran his finger over the dusty wooden beams, and threatened the inmates with heavy punishment if the barrack was not cleaned. In the absence of anything but the scant clothing on their bodies, one man took out his tallit, detached its fringes, and turned it into a cloth. And so, more than the Jews preserved the tallit, the tallit preserved them.

This exhibition pays tribute to the world of 11 Jewish communities and to their rich traditional and modern life, commemorating them while calling for an Israeli cultural revival and for the proud continuation of their legacy.