Photo Credit: courtesy, David Dangoor / The Kaddish Initiative
Sadr City Jewish Cemetery in Baghdad, Iraq (2017)

Diaspora and Israeli organizations and communities representing millions of Jews around the world will participate in a mass Kaddish (the mourners’ prayer) and say a specially designed Azkara (memorial prayer) this Shabbat for Jews buried in inaccessible Arab countries across the Middle East and North Africa.

The date was chosen as the closest Shabbat to November 30th, the Day to Commemorate the Departure and Expulsion of Jews from Arab Countries and Iran, a date officially marked by the State of Israel and Jewish communities around the world.

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So far, more than 100 organizations and communities have signed up at www.KaddishInitiative.com, including the Israeli umbrella organization for Jews from Arab countries, representing millions of people in the Jewish State.

Maccabi World Union, the Jewish organization with the largest active membership in the world at more than half a million, and the European Jewish Congress, the organization representing Jewish communities in Europe, the American Zionist Movement, representing dozens of Zionist organizations across North America, and numerous others, are all participating.

Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs Omer Yankelevich has joined the call for Jews around the world to recite the prayers.

“A fundamental cornerstone of the Jewish tradition is our collective memory. Therefore, I call on Jewish communities around the world to join in this global Shabbat of Remembrance,” Minister Yankelevich wrote in a letter of support for the initiative. “By reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish and an Azkara on the Shabbat of November 28, we will stand united in solidarity in honor of those we cannot physically pay our respects to.”

More than 11,000 rabbis, communal and organizational leaders and others have downloaded the Azkara prayer from the website ‘The Kaddish Initiative’ ranging from strictly-Orthodox, Hasidic, Modern Orthodox, Conservative and Reform, Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Mizrahi, and from every continent.

The Kaddish Initiative began in 2017, when the person who ran the Miss Iraq beauty contest lost their funding and sponsorship after that year’s winner took a selfie with Miss Israel. They learned that the first Miss Iraq was Renée Dangoor, who was crowned in 1947 in Baghdad, and her son, David Dangoor is a prominent philanthropist and businessman living in London.

Sass Peress, a cousin of Dangoor’s was contacted; he asked if in return he could be sent some photos of his grandfather’s grave in a Jewish cemetery in Sadr City, Baghdad. When he realized the state of the cemetery and cemeteries in Jewish communities around the Arab world, which could not be visited by relatives, he formulated the idea of a mass Kaddish for those who could not physically visit their departed loved ones.

“More than a religious event, the recitation of the mass Kaddish and Azkara are an important display of solidarity with the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa, and our history should be acknowledged and never forgotten, to make sure it is never repeated,” Sass Peress said in support of the initiative.

This year, David Dangoor became personally involved and set up and supported a concerted and organized outreach to the wider Jewish world to place the annual Kaddish on the global Jewish calendar.

“Unlike the case of other Jewish tragedies, there is no communal showing of religious solidarity for the exodus and expulsion of Jews from Arab countries,” Dangoor said.

“It is vital, thus, that this be a widely recognized initiative to say these prayers annually in synagogues and Jewish institutions in Israel and around the world. Even in communities where there are few Jews from the Middle East and North Africa, these prayers and a display of religious solidarity are vital for breaking down the barriers between our different communities.”

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.