Two dates with significant meaning in modern Jewish history were commemorated this week — one well-known and recognized for 75 years, the other lesser known and more recently added to our communal calendar.

On November 29, 1947, the United Nations held a historic vote on the Partition Plan for Palestine, which led to the establishment of the modern State of Israel. Far less known, on November 30, we commemorate the “Day to Mark the Departure and Expulsion of Jews from the Arab Countries and Iran.” The day was designated and passed into law by Israel’s Knesset only in 2014.

Why November 30? Because almost immediately after the United Nations’ vote on November 29, Jews from across the Arab world and Iran experienced campaigns of anti-Jewish violence and harassment, contributing to the mass departure or expulsion of 850,000 Jews from countries they had called home for generations.

Ashkenazi Jews like me know well the stories of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents who endured pogroms, the Holocaust, and Soviet oppression. But we are far less familiar with the upheaval and expulsion that shaped the narratives of Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews around the world.

We need to do a better job of learning. To start, we should know there is no monolithic New York Sephardic and Mizrahi community. Rather, there are Syrian, Persian, Bukharian, Moroccan, Iraqi, Ladino-background communities, and more — each with rich intellectual traditions, histories, philosophies, and cultures for us to celebrate.

In the language of food (always near to my heart!), there is a vast, delicious world beyond kugel and cholent — a world of Syrian kibbeh, Persian ghondi, Moroccan dafina, and Yemenite jachnun.

Earlier this week, UJA’s staff took part in a program that was both a celebration of Sephardic and Mizrahi cultural experiences and a commemoration of the forced expulsion. We learned to sing Syrian pizmonin (songs to praise God), danced to original Bukharian songs, and tasted an array of Middle Eastern sweets.

Most importantly, we listened. And we learned.

At a panel moderated by Dr. Mijal Bitton, we heard from Sephardic Jewish leaders, scholars, and writers who shared their personal histories and cultural backgrounds and spoke of sometimes feeling unseen by the broader Jewish community.

Cynthia Shamash, whose family fled Iraq, described the trauma of exile and the struggle to survive in foreign lands. Forty years later, finally settled, she’s driven to preserve her family’s roots and educate the next generation. Representing that younger generation, Sophie Levy shared what it was like going to a Jewish day school where the history of Sephardic families was completely absent from the curriculum. Rabbi Dr. Richard Hidary described attending a pluralistic Jewish learning conference, which boasted at least 10 different types of minyans — but not one Sephardic. Coming from a place of wanting to move us forward, the panelists offered suggestions on how Ashkenazi-majority environments can be more inclusive.

UJA has long focused on building bridges across (and beyond) our community so that all among us feel seen and heard. We’re continuing to partner with those institutions, whether for social services or Jewish life and education, that meet the specific needs of the Sephardic and Mizrahi communities. And we continue to learn from and with the Sephardic and Mizrahi communities to share and preserve their unique stories, not just for the sake of these communities, but for all of us who can benefit from being exposed to the beauty and complexity of Jewish narratives different from our own.

I’m reminded of the words of Rabbi Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel, the first Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, who urged us to “love absolutely every Jewish man and woman and the people of Israel in its entirety.”

A lofty aspiration to be sure, but one that takes on new urgency today, at a moment of increasing antisemitism — calling on each of us to share our collective strength.

Strength found in our many diverse stories of trauma and of joy.

And in our commitment to one another.  

Shabbat shalom