Wednesday 11 March
In this Lunchtime Lecture, Racheline Barda will shed light on an amazing cache of ancient manuscripts, books and letters, known as the Cairo Genizah. This body of work was uncovered towards the end of the nineteenth century in a dusty old attic of the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Fustat (Old Cairo). These findings revealed an unsuspected social history, spanning ten centuries of uninterrupted Jewish life in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Why did this particular genizah survive when so many genizot all over the Jewish world did not? Why were all these manuscripts and holy books never removed from the genizah and buried as per Jewish tradition? Why were they stored together with printed books, legal documents, personal correspondence, and children’s scribblings? Why have these findings captured the imagination of scholars and academic institutions around the world? What has this mixture of the religious, the heretical, and the mundane taught us about the Jewish medieval world of that region and its relationship with its Christian and Arab neighbours?
These are the type of questions that will be raised in the course of Racheline’s presentation.
Racheline was born in Alexandria, Egypt. She was educated in a French Lycee where she gained her Baccalaureat. In the wake of the Suez War of 1956, she was forced to leave Egypt and arrived in Australia in 1958 as a refugee with her husband Joe.
Many years later, she became a graduate of Sydney University where she was awarded a PhD in Jewish history in 2007. In the course of her research, she has interviewed a large number of Jews from Egypt now living in Australia, France, Great Britain, and the United States. They all shared with her the untold story of their “second exodus”. In 2011, she published a book, based on her PhD thesis, entitled The Egyptian-Jewish Emigrés in Australia. She now lectures at the Jewish Studies Department of Sydney University on the history of the Jews of Egypt from biblical times to the modern period, focusing on the medieval period and the Cairo Genizah. Lately, she has also looked at the issue of identity of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews in Israel.
Racheline’s love of Jewish history has led her to become a volunteer guide at the Sydney Jewish Museum since 1996.