Throughout most of her life, Giulietta Boukhobza rarely talked about the life she left behind in Libya when she was 16. However, today, with antisemitism on the rise and Israel under constant threat, she shares her family’s story of their harrowing escape from Libya as part of an effort to raise awareness for future generations.

Joining Boukhobza is filmmaker Vivienne Roumani-Denn, the creator ofThe Last Jews of Libya,” a documentary about how her family and others were forced out of their North African homeland, who provides the historical backdrop for Boukhobza’s story, illustrating how life was never easy for Jews in Libya, but it was still home. 

Boukhobza’s story is also one of triumph. Together with her husband David Harris, the longtime CEO of American Jewish Committee, they demonstrate that speaking up and fighting for what you believe is the only option. 

Show notes:

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Song credits: 

  • "Enta Omri" (live) by Umm Kulthum
  • Kamar Barik; Gushe Cheman; Rampi Rampi; Aksaray'in Taslari; all by Turku, Nomads of the Silk Road
  • Pond5
    • “Desert Caravans”: Publisher: Pond5 Publishing Beta (BMI), Composer: Tiemur Zarobov (BMI), IPI#1098108837
    • “Sentimental Oud Middle Eastern”: Publisher: Pond5 Publishing Beta (BMI), Composer: Sotirios Bakas (BMI), IPI#797324989.
    • “Frontiers”: Publisher: Pond5 Publishing Beta (BMI); Composer: Pete Checkley (BMI), IPI#380407375
    • “Adventures in the East”: Publisher: Pond5 Publishing Beta (BMI) Composer: Petar Milinkovic (BMI), IPI#00738313833.
    • “Middle Eastern Arabic Oud”: Publisher: Pond5 Publishing Beta (BMI); Composer: Sotirios Bakas (BMI), IPI#797324989
    • “A Middle East Lament”: Publisher: Pond5 Publishing Alpha (ASCAP); Composer: Dan Cullen (PRS), IPI#551977321
    • “Mystic Anatolia”: Publisher: Pond5 Publishing Alpha (ASCAP); Composer: Okan Akdeniz (MSG), IPI#37747892568
    • “Modern Middle Eastern Underscore”: Publisher: All Pro Audio LLC (611803484); Composer: Alan T Fagan (347654928)


Episode Transcript

GIULIETTA BOUKHOBZA: My family was in Libya for many, many years. You were a second-class citizen, but you didn’t know better. You knew that if somebody hits you in the street, you don't go to the police, because the police will take the side of the Arab. They didn't care. You were just a Jew and a Zionist. 

MANYA BRACHEAR PASHMAN: The world has overlooked an important episode in modern history: the 800,000 Jews who left or were driven from their homes in Arab nations and Iran in the mid-20th century. This series, brought to you by American Jewish Committee, explores that pivotal moment in Jewish history and the rich Jewish heritage of Iran and Arab nations as some begin to build relations with Israel. 

I'm your host, Manya Brachear Pashman. Join us as we explore family histories and personal stories of courage, perseverance, and resilience. 

This is The Forgotten Exodus. 

Today’s episode: Leaving Libya.

GIULIETTA: We were all hiding in our houses, all the Jews. And there were news about buildings, that they were burned. We didn’t know at the time that they had killed some families. And my particular family, we were able to leave, actually the famous Quatorze Juillet, the 14th of July, the Bastille Day. So it was freedom for us too, and we ended up, we went to Italy.

MANYA: Until recently, Guilietta Boukhobza never talked about the life she left behind in Libya at the age of 16, and for many years her children rarely inquired. Only recently, her oldest son has started to ask his mother what happened to her family, their family, more than 50 years ago. What prompted her parents to leave everything behind, besides what each family member could fit inside a suitcase?

GIULIETTA: One suitcase. So we were eight children, and a mother and a father. Each one got his suitcase. I don't even remember what we put in it. I have no memory. It’s so funny. I don't remember making the bag. I vaguely remember getting into this kind of truck, arriving at the airport. 

I remember arriving in Rome and starting to cry. Because I was saying, and it's true, we were very, very happy to get out of there, but still there is trauma. That you just leave there, you arrive to a train station and you start crying and you say ‘I want to go home.’ What the hell is home? They’ll kill you there.

MANYA: Her father’s favorite wool blanket. A handmade rug her mother treasured. The journals Giulietta had kept since the age of ten. Though she doesn’t remember any of these items going into a suitcase, these are the mementos that over the years have reminded Giulietta of her childhood in Misrata and Tripoli. The contents of those suitcases mattered very little at the time. 

GIULIETTA: In my family they came, they almost killed us. I mean, I still remember coming, and we're alive by a miracle so, we are grateful that we were not killed.

MANYA: World events, ignorance about history, and the naïveté that often accompanies that ignorance also propel Giulietta to share her story. She is bewildered and alarmed by the rising tide of antisemitism and anger toward Israel.

Israel is not perfect. Not by any stretch. But neither is America, the country that has given her freedoms and opportunities that she never knew existed for Jews growing up in Libya.  

Giulietta has a unique vantage point. She is married to the longtime CEO of American Jewish Committee, David Harris, who has shown her that speaking up and fighting for what you believe is the only option. 

In 2017, David wrote Letter from a Forgotten Jew, a column stylistically written from a first-person perspective based on the stories he had heard from Jews that fled Arab countries such as Iraq and Libya. In reality, it was an ode to his wife whose experience had been ignored for too long. Since then, Giulietta has shared pieces of her story and occasionally picks up her own pen to offer her perspective on world events.  

GIULIETTA: Now, everything that happened to me I see in a different light. It’s not any more about me. I was just, how do you say, I just happened to be at the wrong time at the wrong place. So, I don't want you to feel bad for me or feel sorry for me. I talk like almost as if it is not me. I'm talking about the third person. And, and I don't even have so much pity for this third person because this third person survived and thrived in a way.  

When I look at my story now, I see it in relation to what I see around me – the growing antisemitism, the stupidity of the West, the ignorance towards history, the indifference and almost embarrassment of some Jews who should be proud of who they are and what they achieved.

You almost envy these people who never had the trauma that you have. Now, I feel almost privileged that I had that because I can understand more and see the danger of what can happen when people don't know history or whatever.

MANYA: The Libyan Jewish community goes back thousands of years, to the Third Century before the Common Era, even before Roman times. Of course, it wasn’t called Libya at the time. Over millennia, Jews lived in Cyrenaica, the region next to Egypt, and Tripolitania, the region bordering Tunisia. They lived under Roman, Ottoman, Italian, Spanish, British and, eventually, Libyan rule.  

Who was in charge at the time determined Jews’ comfort, their livelihood, and oftentimes their survival. Under some regimes, Jews were treated as a protected minority who paid special taxes and faced certain restrictions. 

Under some, they held government positions. And yet under others, they feared for their lives. In fact, after the 18th Century, Jews in Tripoli– when there were still Jews in Tripoli– celebrated two additional Purims to mark their deliverance from two separate attempts to annihilate them.

VIVIENNE ROUMAINI-DENN: Even in the best of times, they lived uneasily. On an individual basis there was that full trust. But at the same time, when there were pogroms, you just never knew when somebody would save you, or kill you. And both happened. You found Arabs who really risked their life to save you and you found others who actually just killed you. 

MANYA: That’s filmmaker Vivienne Roumani-Denn, the creator of “The Last Jews of Libya,” a documentary about how her family was forced out of their North African homeland. The documentary was inspired by a manuscript her mother left behind, which Vivienne discovered only after her death. 

A librarian by training, Vivienne began conducting oral histories, interviewing dozens of Jewish refugees who once called Libya home. She also created the first website to curate stories and conversations in the Libyan Jewish community. 

In 1999, she became the founding director of the Sephardic Library and Archives of the American Sephardi Federation at the Center for Jewish History in New York. She later served as the federation’s executive director. 

Meanwhile, her older brother Maurice Roumani, a professor of politics and international relations, wrote the seminal scholarly work on Libya’s modern Jewish history titled, “The Jews of Libya.” 

VIVIENNE: At the end of the Ottoman period, there was a thriving Jewish school. Many Jewish children learned Hebrew so well that they would speak it in the street. It's a nice little glimpse of the Ottoman rule in Libya, which was before anybody is currently living.

MANYA: Indeed, Jewish life flourished in Libya for centuries. Shabbat tables featured chraime, fish simmered in a spicy tomato sauce, and mafrum, vegetables stuffed with meat. In Tripoli, by the 1940s, men could walk to one of 44 synagogues every Saturday morning. The beat of the goblet drum, or darbouka, signaled the impending nuptials of a bride and groom. And when the bride emerged on her wedding day with her hands and head exquisitely painted with henna, she was a sight to behold. 

In 1911, the Italians conquered the Ottoman rulers and at first, Jews fared well. 

VIVIENNE: Life under Italian rule was calm, and even when fascism first came about, it was almost like just another form of government. But a major change happened when Mussolini aligned himself with Hitler.

MANYA: Benito Mussolini instituted racial laws in 1938 that required Jews to open their stores on Shabbat or face severe punishment. Eventually, Jews were barred from holding government positions. A sfollamento, or process of removing Libya’s Jews, commenced. In 1940, the African campaign of the Second World War was unfolding in the eastern Libyan desert, adjacent to Egypt. The British captured Benghazi twice. 

The first time, Jews welcomed them. But Germany pushed the British out. Shortly after, anti-Jewish riots destroyed homes and businesses. When the British were pushed back a second time, many Jews with British passports fled with the British soldiers. Those who stayed were rounded up and sent to detention camps in Italy. 

VIVIENNE: Some were later sent to Bergen-Belsen. They all survived. But this is a little-known part of the Holocaust history.

In 1942, Mussolini ordered the expulsion of all Jews in Cyrenaica because of their interaction with the British. Those with French or French protectorate passports were sent to Tunisia and Algeria. 

Those without foreign passports, and a small number with Italian passports were sent to an Italian-run detention camp in Giado, in the mountains of Tripolitania. The conditions there were very harsh. Families required to live in cramped quarters, separated only by a sheet. They had lice-borne typhus everywhere. Food was very scarce. The interviewees told me how they had to carve out all these lice from a teeny piece of dried bread. And about one-fourth perished. 

MANYA: Giulietta’s father was a young man then and later told stories of time spent in a concentration camp. She believes it was Giado. 

The Jews of Giado were liberated after the British conquered Tripolitania in 1943. But two years later, in 1945, brutal pogroms unfolded across Tripoli and other cities across Tripolitania, sparked by soccer fans coming from a stadium about one kilometer from the city’s Jewish quarter. The British did not intervene for three days.

VIVIENNE: The spread throughout Tripolitania was too rapid to have been coincidental. 129 Jews were killed. Some of the descriptions of the atrocities that I recorded in the oral histories are horrifying. I'll never forget one interview, when she opened the door to greet me, in tears. She said, ‘I've waited 50 years for you.’ I've never met that woman before. And she said . . . she just unburdened herself of the most horrific memories. 

MANYA: Another pogrom in 1948, a month after Israel declared independence, took fewer Jewish lives because the community was more prepared to defend itself. But both the pogroms in ’45 and ’48 became rallying cries for Israel. Between 1949 and 1951, 95% of Libyan Jews left when aliyah became possible. For those who stayed, like Giulietta’s family, the situation continued to deteriorate.

GIULIETTA: My family was in Libya for many, many years. I don't know how many generations my family was there. But we were there many years.

MANYA: Giulietta was born in 1951, the same year Libya gained its independence. By then, a fierce nationalism expressed through anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish policies had swept the region. At that time, her family lived in Misrata, a coastal city in northwestern Libya where mass riots took place on the day of Libya’s first-ever election. 

Giulietta recalls that they were the only Jewish family left in Misrata at that time. The others had gone to Tripoli. The family lived in an apartment at the center of town. The Libyans’ distaste and distrust for Jews was especially evident when King Idris came to visit Misrata.

GIULIETTA: When the king will come, we have all these policemen in our house. And then the shades will be down. And we as children weren’t allowed to see. And I never understood, I never asked my parents, ‘Were they there because we were the only Jewish family, and they didn't trust us? Or were the police there because that was a very good location to see if there were snipers or something against the king?’ If I had to guess, I think because we were Jewish.

MANYA: At the age of eight, Giulietta’s family moved to Tripoli where her father worked in human resources for the Volkswagen corporation. Most of the schools in Libya were still Italian Catholic. Giulietta knew all the prayers, all the sacraments. By then, there were unspoken rules about being Jewish. You kept it quiet, even though people still knew.

GIULIETTA: First of all, you have to realize that when you don't know any different, your abnormal becomes normal. And so, if you ask me about growing up, we went to schools. We went to the beach. Some people were able to travel. The whole family couldn’t leave. You always have to leave somebody there. This kind of blackmail, because they were afraid that you will escape and go to Israel.

So basically life was, let's say normal for us, because we didn't know. For example, you knew you don't advertise the fact that you're Jewish even though we had synagogues. 

As an example, even though we went to Italian school with Italian books. Sometimes the books about geography, they will come late because they will arrive from Italy. And why they will arrive late? Because they will have to remove the page if there was a picture of Israel. If in the thing you see in the Middle East there was Egypt, Jordan, etc, Libya, they had to remove it.

MANYA: When a new law in 1961 required a special permit to prove Libyan citizenship, most Jews were denied. Jews could not open businesses without an Arab partner who owned more than half. Jews could not vote.

GIULIETTA: You were a second-class citizen, but you didn’t know better. You just knew not to do things. You knew that if somebody hits you in the street, you don't go to the police, because the police will take the side of the Arab.  You thought things were relatively normal, and then they will turn on a dime on you. They didn't care. You were just a Jew and a Zionist.

You went to the movie, and you see the newsreel, and you see they were completely brainwashed by Egypt. And the famous phrase was ‘aleaduu alsuhyuniu’ [in Arabic: العدو الصهيوني] -- the Zionist enemy, the Zionist enemy, the Zionist enemy. We were there generations before them. We never went to Israel, but it was always, this is how they brainwashed you.

Then in ‘67, during the Six Day War, that is where everything exploded, and we had to leave.

MANYA: Tension started to build days before Egypt, Jordan, and Syria began battling Israel. Giulietta remembers young men on the side of the street drawing their hands across their throats when she and her sister walked by. Her school closed and her father started staying home from work. 

GIULIETTA: We were on the phone with other Jewish families, and we could hear that things were burning. They killed . . . We didn't know. That's what helped us to keep our sanity. When we left, we knew – that they also killed people.

MANYA: Then one night, the mob arrived at her family’s house. Remember, her father worked in human resources. That detail spared their lives.

GIULIETTA: I remember this group of people coming toward us, we had a garden. They could have been 500. Or they could have been 1,000. Or they could have been just 70. But in my eyes, there were so, so many. And they wanted to burn us alive.

My mother, she knew them. She knew the mentality. So, she pushed my father away, and she went there and basically, she started pleading with them saying ‘What did we do to you? And it happened that the guy that worked for my father, and he was supposed to be fired, my father decided not to fire him. And he turned to them, and he said to them and said, ‘These are good Jews. Let’s don’t kill them.’ Sorry if I laugh. So they took the, how do you say, the match. They put it back and they left. 

But we knew we were not safe. The Arabs, the Muslims, these were our enemies. We’re in their country. We are the Jews. They wanted us dead. I never want to think of what would have happened if they got hold of us.

MANYA: The government set a curfew to curb the violence. Still afraid for their lives, Giulietta’s mother reached out to a Muslim family with whom they were close and asked for help. They agreed to hide the whole family – Giulietta’s mother, father, and eight children.  

GIULIETTA: This wonderful man. He sent us his driver, with this big car. And I remember we all dressed as Arabs. I think maybe even my father, he covered himself. And he took us all to that house. And we stayed there for about two weeks.

MANYA: Men occupied one corner of the house, watching television, and listening to BBC, which was reporting on Israel’s victories over the Egyptian Air Force and its capture of the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip. The women lived in the other wing, listening to Arabic radio, which told a very different story. One day, Giulietta crossed over to the other side of the house to visit her father for a kosher lunch of boiled potatoes, eggs, and tuna, drizzled with olive oil. 

GIULIETTA: I said to my father, he said, ‘How are you doing on the other side?’ I said, ‘We are OK. But mama is crying, crying, crying.’ And he said, ‘Why? We are safe.’ I said, ‘Because we're listening to the news, she had brothers in Israel, and the Arab news was saying that every Jew in Israel was killed. That they won the war, and everybody's dying. And he told me, ‘Go to your mother and whisper to her, that this is bullshit, that Israel was the biggest victor in the history, and the Egyptians are running in the desert without shoes.’ 

MANYA: But after two weeks, Giulietta’s mother became suspicious of their hosts. She still trusted the adults in the family. But not necessarily their teenage sons. 

Vivienne Roumani-Denn said older generations of Libyans tended to appreciate what Jews had contributed to society over the years and respect that. Younger Libyans were more easily swept up by the nationalistic and antisemitic fervor, regardless of the nation’s Jewish heritage. 

GIULIETTA: My mother told my father, ‘I feel it in my bones, his sons are going to sell us. So, let's go home. We’d rather die in our own home. It’s also dangerous for them.’ So, we went home.

MANYA: Not long after, the King of Libya gave the Jews an impossible choice. They could go to an internment camp where they would supposedly be protected, or each person could pack a bag, take no more than 30 sterling, and abandon their homes, the lives that generations of their family had built in this country – forever. 

There were too many tales of families and neighbors accepting so-called offers of protection from authorities, only to be led to their death. Giulietta’s family and thousands of others packed their bags. An Italian airlift transported 6,000 Jews to safety.

GIULIETTA: The reason why we went to Italy is because the Italian ambassador at that time in Libya decided that he had to help the Jews. And there was something for which we could all go to Italy.

I just remember they took us in this kind of truck to the airport. And then from there, we went to Rome and the feeling of freedom when we arrived in Rome. But I heard stories of people who the police wouldn’t take them, or they left them somewhere and they were saved by a miracle. So, you couldn't trust anybody.

MANYA: The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, or HIAS, encouraged them to go to the States. Her father wanted to go to Israel. Her mother wanted to stay in Italy. That’s what they did. 

GIULIETTA: Every country that took the Libyan Jews, and I can say that with a lot of pride, we just added to the country. We either opened businesses, or, you understand? We were never parasites. They accepted us, but we never relied on them. At the contrary, we added whatever it was to business to, to whatever. And we are always grateful. I mean, to me, Italy is one of my most favorite countries, I will always be grateful. 

MANYA: With only a fourth-grade education, Giulietta’s mother became an Arabic-Italian translator for hospitals and doctors across Rome. But her father struggled. Educated at Alliance Israel Francaise, French-run Jewish schools across the Middle East, he was erudite and ambitious. 

GIULIETTA: My father basically, I never saw him as a worker. He was a man that was always reading and studying languages. He was a dreamer in a way. 

When he got to Italy, he tried to find a job and he couldn't. It was terrible to see that. But it was not easy. My father was never able to become who he was basically. He always felt like a failure.

He was an idealist. He loved, he wanted to go to Israel all his life. He always used to say ‘I’d rather die young in the land of Israel than old anywhere else’ and he died old somewhere else. But you know, in life, you cannot always have what you … He’s buried in Israel, yeah.

MANYA: While her father dreamed of going to Israel, her mother dreamed of going back home to Libya. Even though she worked hard to settle the family and become part of the fabric of Italian society, Italy was only a temporary refuge. 

In fact, Giulietta’s parents did go back, in 1969, hoping to reclaim some of the possessions they had left behind. While they were there, King Idris was overthrown in a military coup led by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Giulietta’s parents were prisoners in their former home for about a year before they could return to their new home in Rome. They recovered very little. Gaddafi confiscated all Jewish property.

GIULIETTA: My mother thought eventually she'll go back to Libya. That was always her home. That was her country. That was her house.  Maybe in the last 10 years before she died, she realized there was no hope and she saw all the, forgive me, the bestiality, all the things of terrorism and she said ‘[I could] never go back there.’ But she always dreamed of going back.

MANYA: Instead, Libya has lived on in their everyday lives – their recipes, their superstitions, and their deepest memories. To this day, guests at Giulietta’s Shabbat and holiday tables eat rice, couscous, chraime, mafrum, and a special dish of white beans called lubya.

When Giulietta’s sons or daughters-in-law send her photographs of grandchildren, she responds with the emojis of a fish and a hand, to ward off the evil eye. The hand, or hamsa, is a symbol originated by Muslims, but embraced and redefined by the Mizrahi Jews who once lived among them. 

And when Giulietta’s mother was in the final stage of Alzheimer’s, that ruthless disease that strips one’s memories, Giulietta would turn on Umm Kulthum, a popular Egyptian singer who, despite being a raging antisemite, was beloved by Arabs and Jews. 

GIULIETTA: You will hardly meet any Arab, any Jew, from North Africa or the Middle East who doesn't know Umm Kulthum. The only thing that she would remember, and I would put on Umm Kulthum. And I will tell her, I pretend to say ‘Mama, I cannot understand Arabic. Can you translate it to me?’ And she would translate the words, which were always: You are my life. You are my eyes, I love you. You know, the melodrama of songs.

MANYA: Roumani-Denn said for Jews in Libya, the antisemitism, no matter how rabid, no matter how pervasive, did not steal the love and sense of belonging we all have, or long for in the place we call home. 

VIVIENNE: You know, it's home. It's not home, you were never made to feel at home. But it was... there were some really good times. Every time I interviewed anybody, they said, ‘Life was good. They hated us.’ And I said, ‘Isn't there a contradiction here?’ And the thing is, you know, … life in Libya revolved around family and faith, and extended family and friends. So, there was all this warmth on the one hand.

MANYA: Giulietta has no desire to return to the land she once called home. When she thinks about what she misses most, it’s her childhood. She left that behind when she boarded the plane to Italy, and it would not be waiting for her if she went back. It’s gone. 

GIULIETTA: The country can go to hell. Sorry. I have no interest. No sympathy. Where can they give you back the money? The place is bankrupt. They don't even have... they're going to give it to the Jews? Some people are still fighting, ‘it’s our money.’ Some people left so much, so much. But that happened also to the Jews all over the world.

MANYA: She also knows now what was missing from that childhood. Leaving Libya introduced her to liberties she never knew existed for Jews. And for women. She wouldn’t want to return to a life without rights and freedom. Wherever they landed in Italy, the States, or Israel, she, her parents, and her seven siblings encountered new opportunities and seized them. 

After two years of freedom in Rome, Giulietta’s younger sister Liliana at the age of 16 moved to Israel to finish high school and become a lone soldier. A soldier in the Israel Defense Forces with no family in Israel to support them, only their comrades and their countrymen. 

GIULIETTA: It was horrible to be kicked out, we lost all our money. And we all say it was the best thing that happened to us. It was the best thing that happened to us, being kicked out, because finally we have what we never had before.  

MANYA: Landing in Italy when she did not only introduced her to unexpected freedoms. In 1975, her cousin introduced her to a co-worker at HIAS, an American son of Holocaust survivors who had landed in Rome after being expelled from the Soviet Union for helping persecuted Jews. He became Giulietta’s husband and the CEO of AJC, David Harris. In 1979, they moved to the States where David became CEO 11 years later. In that role, he has expanded the organization’s reach in the Arab world.

Meanwhile, Giulietta taught Italian and raised their three sons in the kind of home she could not have growing up in Libya – one that was openly and proudly Jewish. Inspired by his wife’s journey, David has sought justice for Jews around the world by urging nations to fight antisemitism with more than just words and ceremonies to remember the Holocaust. He has encouraged them to see the fuller picture of Jews after the Holocaust, including those forced from their homes in Arab nations and Iran, the crucial role Israel has played for thousands of refugees, and the hope it offers for millions of others, should the need ever arise.

GUILIETTA: I feel blessed, because he understood. He understood. I mean, it’s his job. He went to Russia. He went to Rome. He helped the Russian Jews to come. He studied our history. 

And to be honest with you, a lot of American Jews, they live in a bubble. It’s like if being born in freedom, and in a democracy, they cannot envision anything that is different than what they have.

MANYA: They cannot envision a world where Jews had to celebrate life cycle events quietly, could not travel or pursue their dreams, or feared for their lives. They cannot envision a world without Israel, or worse, they can, and they believe the world would be better for it. They don’t understand why Israel exists, what purpose it served for millions of Jews, thousands from across the Arab world, including Libya. But Giulietta knows why Israel exists. 

GIULIETTA: When you come from this country, and things happen to you like [they] happened to me, to the Egyptian Jews, to the Iraqi Jews, even to the Russian Jews. We see something which is sad: that people who lived in freedom lost the ability to think rationally. 

MANYA: There are no more Jews left in Libya. The Great Synagogue in Tripoli has been boarded up. When in 2011, a Libyan Jew returned from exile and broke through the boards to go inside, armed vigilantes surrounded the site. He was lucky to leave alive. 

Giulietta remembers no matter how discreet Libyan Jews were about their Judaism, they never missed a High Holiday service at that synagogue and the men went there every Saturday morning. Bar mitzvahs were done quietly, unlike in the States where her three sons’ bar mitzvahs weren’t a concern.

GIULIETTA: I see my oldest son, who is 42, who every now and then he says, ‘Mom, can you please tell me how it happened, what happened?’ And it’s funny they ask, because today, when I knew you were coming, I said, there are so many questions I didn't ask my parents.

MANYA: I asked Giulietta why her family stayed in Libya after the pogroms of ’45 and ’48. Many of her aunts, uncles, cousins fled Tripoli for Israel before she was even born. Why did her parents move to Tripoli and try to stay? 

GIULIETTA: I wouldn't know how to answer because you think they will always be alive, you think, and then they disappear, and you realize there are things you don’t know.

I never asked. I think, I think, they thought... I never asked.

MANYA: Libyan Jews are just one of the many Jewish communities who in the last century left Arab countries to forge new lives for themselves and future generations. Join us next week as we share another untold story of The Forgotten Exodus.

Many thanks to Giulietta for sharing her story.

Does your family have roots in North Africa or the Middle East? One of the goals of this series is to make sure we gather these stories before they are lost. Too many times during my reporting, I encountered children and grandchildren who didn't have the answers to my questions because, like Giulietta, they never asked. That's why one of the goals of this project is to encourage you to find more of these stories. 

Call The Forgotten Exodus hotline. Tell us where your family is from and something you'd like for our listeners to know such as how you've tried to keep the traditions alive and memories alive as well. Call 212.891-1336 and leave a message of 2 minutes or less. Be sure to leave your name and where you live now. You can also send an email to and we'll be in touch.