Happy New Year Kurdish Jews: The Story Of Their Migration

Kurds came to Israel in 3 stages; first time in 1819 as they migrated to northern Israel to a village called Algoid, which its name came from the Bible. The Kurds built Algoid and the only language they used was Kurdish which became the second language later.

Kurdish Jews in Rawanduz, northern Iraq, 1905. Wiki
Kurdish Jews in Rawanduz, northern Iraq, 1905. Wiki

Third Kurdish migration to Israel was between 1948 and 1951 and it was the biggest migration, when the Iraqi government forced them to leave their homes and they took all the people’s belongings, especially gold, money and properties. The Iraqi government put them in air planes and sent them to Israel.

The first migrant group was very religious; they believed that Jerusalem was the only holly city for Jews. Nowadays the number of Kurdish Jews in Israel are between 150-200 thousands.

The Hakham Shalom Shamouni
The Hakham Shalom Shamouni

“We are all over Israel, and despite the fact that Kurdish Jews do not usually work in politics, our community here is a strong community and we do our best to help the Kurds” Yehuda Ben Yosef, the chairman of the Kurdish community in Israel told ZIV.

The second migration of the Kurds to Israel was different; it was led by Shalom Shamouni, the head of Hakhams in Iraqi Kurdistan and Iraq.

Ben Yosef talked about that period: “My grandfather had a strong belief that Israel is going to be a state for Jews, he was rich and powerful, yet he decided to leave Kurdistan in 1932 and go to Israel. He walked with his family and a group of Kurdish Jews all the way to Damascus; they then took the train from Damascus to Jerusalem.

“He waited for nearly 20 years to be reunited with his Kurdish community which he then led. He helped them also to find houses when the last and the biggest Kurdish migration to place between 1948 and 1952”

The Kurdish community in Israel
The Kurdish community in Israel

At the time, people in Jerusalem tend to live around the wall; however the Kurds started their community life outside the wall and they create their own neighborhood which is called now The Kurdish neighborhood.

Kurds started to build houses which caused a lot of problems with Arab neighbors who lived around the border, so they started to attack the Kurds.

When Kurds started their revolution against the Iraqi government during the 60s, Kurds in Israel were the first to help and stand up with them. Ben Yosef said:

“My uncle Habib Shimoni was the chairman and the presenter of the Jewish community in Kurdistan and he was also a member in the Knesset, he pushed the Israeli government to send weapons to the Kurds.Today, we have very good relations with the Kurdish government in Iraq

“We represent the Kurdish community here and we want to help the Kurds, but we are not in the Israeli government, we can’t make the Kurdish-Israeli relations official because we are worried about the Kurds who are surrounded by dangerous enemies like governments in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey”

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Kurdish singer Hadasa Yesurun singing during the Kurdish New Year in Israel on the 29th of September 2015

On the 29th of September every year, the Kurds in Israel celebrate the Kurdish New Year, unlike the rest of the Kurds around the world who celebrate Newroz on the 21st of March. They meet in a park called Tzemach Beach where they eat Kurdish food, dance and show the Kurdish culture to their children to keep it alive. They all sleep in the park at night. It’s like a big festival where many of the Knesset members come to join.

“We call it Sarani.” Ben Yosef said. “When My grandfather came to Israel, he didn’t want to make the New Year in March; he wanted us to make it at the same time as the Jewish holidays of Sukkot.”

Mr. Yehuda Ben Yosef Shamouni told ZIV that the Kurdish community is trying to build a very big Kurdish center in Jerusalem to tell the history of Kurdistan. “We are asking the Kurdish government to help us too. We don’t only need money but we also need books and cultural sources, it’s very important to build this center here to make the Kurdish history alive”

Contact: sedar@zivmagazine.com