Recently I was invited to participate in a discussion about the background of the Abraham Accords, their implication and the role Mizrahi Jews can play in being a bridge for peace in the region. As part of my preparation for participating I thought about my own experience in the region. Many years ago I went to Tunisia in 2008 for an academic conference of geographers called the IGU. It was before the Arab Spring.
In Tunis I had the privilege of being able to pray in the great synagogue and also visit the Jewish cemetery. It was a fascinating experience. I never wrote about it.
In March 2015 I went to the United Arab Emirates so that I could take part in the Emirates Literature Festival. I interviewed people at the event and got to drive to Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. It was interesting to see the cultural event and how the UAE was investing in these kinds of events and bringing people together.
In June of 2015 I first saw the tomb of the Prophet Nahum in northern Iraq’s Al-Qush. I continued to write about the renovation of the site as it was restored over the years.
Later, in February 2017 I got to go to Cairo and see the Ben-Ezra synagogue in Egypt where Maimonides once prayed. I met the head of the Jewish community and also so another more modern synagogue in downtown Cairo. It was interesting to see how Jewish history was being preserved and the old Jewish quarter. The synagogue had been renovated and was in good condition. There were tourists. We heard about government support.
I have also written about how the recent UAE peace deal is part of a wider push for tolerance for Jews across the region, including renovation of synagogues in Beirut, and in Turkey and other places. Read one of my articles here. I have also visited Jewish sites in Turkey and other areas in northern Iraq and covered antisemitism in the region.