American Jewish Committee (AJC) launched today a new limited podcast series on Jews from Arab countries and Iran. The Forgotten Exodus features interviews with Jews from countries including Iraq, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, and Iran. It is the first narrative podcast series devoted exclusively to telling the stories of the 800,000 Jews who left or were driven from their centuries-old communities in Arab lands and Iran in the mid-twentieth century.

“The narratives of once vibrant Jewish communities in the Arab world and Iran, with roots in many cases dating back more than 2,000 years, are largely unknown, especially the life-threatening conditions that compelled hundreds of thousands of them to abandon their homes, livelihoods, and synagogues,” said AJC CEO David Harris, whose wife was a Jewish refugee from Libya. “Sharing their stories is vital not only for the totality of world Jewish history, but for highlighting how those who fled, and their descendants, have rebuilt their lives in Israel and other countries of refuge, where they resettled and, inspiringly, started over again.”

In the inaugural episode, Carol Isaacs, whose graphic memoir, The Wolf of Baghdad, tells her family’s story of their lost Iraqi homeland, after the 1941 Farhud, or pogrom, shares how she pieced together the book from family recollections, some of which she had never heard because her parents wanted to move forward without looking back. 

“It's been interesting. A lot of people didn't even know that there were Jews living in Arab lands,” she said. “Nobody knows about what happened to them, that they were ethnically cleansed, removed from their homes and dispersed across the world … It's our truth and it's our history.”

Ninety percent of Iraqi Jews, about 120,000 people, left for Israel following the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, and thousands more fled after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. 

“This was a glorious community, a large community, which was part of the fabric of society for centuries, if not millennia,” says Zvi Ben-Dor Benite, a New York University Professor of History and Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, on the podcast. His family moved from Iraq to Israel in the 1950s. “It just basically evaporated and what was left is maybe 10 percent that decided to risk everything by staying. But even they had to leave. ”

Both Isaacs and Ben-Dor Benite express a longing to visit Iraq today, but the reality is the country is not safe. Descendants of Iraqi Jews who left decades ago to resettle in Israel, England, the United States, and elsewhere continue to practice their rich Mizrahi traditions in the diaspora.

Upcoming episodes of The Forgotten Exodus, airing on Mondays, will include host Manya Brachear Pashman’s interviews with:

  • Egyptian author André Aciman, whose memoir Out of Egypt recounts how his family was driven from North Africa to Italy, and how his novel, Call Me by Your Name, also an Academy Award-winning film, recreated his family’s waterfront home in Alexandria, Egypt as an Italian villa.
  • Israeli windsurfer Shahar Tzubari, who won a bronze medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, 60 years after his family left Yemen as part of Operation Magic Carpet.
  • Iranian poet Roya Hakakian, who moved to the United States in 1984, after her parents decided it was dangerous to stay in Iran. Her book, Journey From the Land of No, tells the story of Iran’s Jews during the country’s Islamic revolution.
  • Giulietta Boukhobza, an Italian language instructor, whose family sought refuge in Italy after they were forced to leave Libya where they had lived for generations. In Rome, she met her husband, AJC CEO David Harris.

The Forgotten Exodus is the latest AJC initiative to raise awareness and advocacy for Jews from Arab lands and Iran. For more information and resources about Jews from Arab lands and Iran, visit

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