Sephardi Narratives From Australia : Ancient Traditions Ruptured and Reshaped
While Myer was conducting the interviews for this book, he was asked several times, ‘Are there Sephardi Jews living in Melbourne?’ Sephardi Jews have been in Australia since convict days, with the biggest influx in the 1950’s and ’60’s. Most are originally from Mediterranean regions, the Middle Eastern Islamic world and South East Asia. Many were born into traditional Jewish communities ranging from hundreds of years old to pre-Islamic communities over two thousand years old. Their numbers, however, have always been small relative to Ashkenazim (European Jews), which partially explains why their experiences have been little recorded.
Myer Bloom has made a commendable effort to change this situation. This book’s interviews with Sephardim from Melbourne and Sydney present histories strikingly different from those of their European counterparts. There are stories of Jews living idyllic lives in Morocco and Egypt; others tell of long periods of friendly relations with Muslim neighbours and merchants. Many however, were subsequently persecuted and forcibly expelled from their traditional homelands by the rise of Arab nationalism and a more fundamental Islam. Sadly, other narratives highlight the geographic reach of Nazi fanaticism. One Melbourne grandmother tells of being deported from Salonica to Auschwitz and surviving, even after being shot by a guard. A woman from Sydney recalls how, when pregnant, she had to jump across rooftops to escape murderous mobs during the Nazi instigated pogrom against Baghdad’s Jews.
With their English uncorrected, these accounts are authentic in their portrayal of strong emotions and humourous reflections. Many did not have positive experiences when they first arrived. They found Australian culture hard to fathom and Ashkenazi customs and religious services equally foreign. Without exception, however, they all expressed their gratitude to Australia for giving them the freedom to live a safe and happy life.
Lamm Jewish Library of Australia 2019, paperback