Jews are an ethnoreligious group, a tribe, and a nation originating in the Land of Israel, descended from the ancient Hebrews and Israelites. An ethnoreligious group is an ethnic group unified by a common religion. Much like other Indigenous tribes worldwide, Jewish peoplehood, tribal identity, and religion/spirituality (Judaism) are inextricable from each other.
Our history dates back some 4000 years, and, as such, we were one of the oldest tribes in the world. In fact, the word “tribe,” which comes from “tribus” in Latin, was first used to refer to the twelve Israelite tribes.
It’s worth noting that the term “Jews” and “Judaism” do not come from a faith but rather, from a place: specifically, the Kingdom of Judah (930 BCE-587 BCE), one of the two Israelite kingdoms after the split of the United Monarchy of the Kingdom of Israel in 930 BCE.
The fact that modern-day Jews descend from the ancient Israelites should not be up for debate (unfortunately, because of deep-seeded antisemitism and propaganda surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, it is). Archeological evidence, a plethora of genetic studies (“Jewish” DNA is among the most studied in the world), historical record, and the continuity of Jewish culture all conclusively tie the origins — and very identity — of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel.
Yazidis (also known as Yezidis or Ezidis) are an ethnoreligious group Indigenous to Kurdistan. Their ethnic religion Yezidism, has its roots in pre-Zoroastrian Iranic religion. Yazidis speak Kurmanji, a Kurdish dialect.
Some scholars debate whether Yazidis are their own ethnic group or a Kurdish sub-group.
However, the Yazidis that I spoke with told me emphatically that they identify as Yazidi, not Kurdish.
There are about 1-1.5 million Yazidis in the world today. Like Jews, Yazidis have suffered millennia of persecution, beginning in 637 CE. One of the main themes of this persecution is that Islamists claim that Yezidism is “devil worship.” For over a thousand years, Yazidis have survived genocides and forceful conversions to Islam. Yazidis speak of 74 genocides in their history, and remembering these persecutions is central to Yazidi identity.
The most recent genocide of Yazidis was carried out in the mid 2010s by Daesh (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria/Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).
VISIT TO YAD VASHEM
In 2017, a delegation of Yazidi representatives, led by refugee, genocide survivor, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and human rights activist Nadia Murad, visited Israel for the first time, making a stop at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial museum. In addition to Holocaust education, the purpose of the visit was for the Yazidi delegation to learn effective ways to memorialize the Yazidi Genocide.
Yad Vashem’s experts discussed methods of raising awareness and preserving and disseminating testimony with the Yazidi delegation.
Growing up in Iraqi-occupied Kurdistan, Murad never heard of the Holocaust until she came to Germany as a refugee in 2015.
Following the Yazidi Genocide at the hands of ISIS, various Jewish and Israeli groups have helped the Yazidi community with physical and mental health treatment.
In 2018, an Israeli NGO called Dream Doctors, a British charity called Road to Peace, Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem, and the Israeli Foreign Ministry brought a delegation of Yazidis to Israel to train them in medical clowning (yes, as in clowns) to help children in the hospital or recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
In 2019, Bar-Ilan University (Ramat Gan, Israel) and the Israeli humanitarian organization IsraAID hosted a two-week intensive workshop on post-traumatic stress disorder and complex post-traumatic stress disorder treatment specifically to treat survivors of the Yazidi Genocide. The workshop was attended by mental health professionals and human rights activists, including Yazidi genocide survivor Lamiya Aji Bashar.
“We feel a moral obligation not only to study the effects of genocide but to share our know-how to assist those suffering from it,” explained researcher Dr. Yaakov Hoffman.
For several years, Dr. Hoffman and Professor Ari Zivotofsky conducted research on Yazidi women who were held captive by ISIS.
In the years following the genocide, the Israeli organization Shevet Achim, which brings children from the Palestinian Territories, Iraq, and Syria to Israel for open heart surgeries, has brought a number of Yazidi children to Israel for medical treatment, despite bureaucratic difficulties, given that Israel and those countries remain at war.
An Israeli Jewish woman named Lisa Miara has devoted her life to the rehabilitation of Yazidi survivors of genocide. In March of 2002, in the midst of the Second Intifada, her son was injured in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem. In response, she formed the Israeli NGO Springs of Hope Foundation, with the goal of treating Israeli victims of terrorism suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Between 2014 and 2016, Miara organized three conferences in Jerusalem to address the ISIS genocide of ethnic groups in Syria, particularly Yazidis. In 2015, she was invited to join an American delegation traveling to Halabja, Iraqi-occupied Kurdistan, specifically to commemorate the victims of Saddam Hussein’s 1988 genocide of the Kurdish people. Coincidentally, Miara visited the Halabja Victims Memorial Museum on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
After visiting the museum, Miara visited Shariya Refugee Camp, then home to some 24,000 Yazidis. Miara was moved and horrified; she recalls a refugee stating: “Tell the world about us. Why is the world silent?”
Upon her return to Jerusalem, Miara went to a cafe, where she shared some stories. A man overheard her and offered her his business card; he later shared her stories with his own mother-in-law, a Holocaust survivor. Moved by the whole story, a number of Holocaust survivors donated enough money support the rescue of a Yazidi refugee.
In February 2016, Miara registered the Springs of Hope Foundation as a Kurdish NGO. She now splits her time between Jerusalem and Kurdistan, where she works with refugees at Shariya Refugee Camp. Miara and her NGO help Yazidi children learn English, Kurdish, computer science, and more. They also assist with various forms of therapy.
In 2017, the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, Canada, dozens of donors and volunteers, Jewish Child and Family Service, and the synagogue Congregation Shaarey Zedek sponsored the refugee resettlement of thirteen Yazidi families, consisting of about 70 children and adults. They called the initiative “Operation Ezra,” and, after launching it in March of 2015, they were able to raise nearly half a million dollars to bring the refugees to Canada. This was the first such privately-sponsored Yazidi refugee settlement initiative in Winnipeg.
Though it started as a Jewish initiative, over the next several months, 24 Winnipeg-based organizations representing a multitude of faiths ended up joining the campaign.
In addition to resettlement, Jewish organizations heavily assisted with the acclimation and acculturation of the refugees. For example, many took English lessons at a synagogue called Temple Shalom, and Jewish Child and Family Service attended to various needs, including integration.
Another goal for Operation Ezra was to raise awareness and educate on the plight of Yazidis and the Yazidi Genocide. Thanks to their efforts, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau was influenced to bring 1200 Yazidi refugees to Canada.
YAZIDIS, JEWS, & ISRAEL
This should go without saying, but nothing that I am writing in this slide is in any way an endorsement of any Israeli policy.
As is often the case when minorities suffer a genocide, much of the world has completely ignored the Yazidi plight and their calls for help. While Israel’s response to the Yazidi Genocide still leaves much to be desired — in particular, the Israeli Knesset failed to pass a bill recognizing the Yazidi Genocide in 2018 — many Yazidis recognize Israel as the one nation that has provided the most help.
In 2015, Yazidi military leader Lukman Ibrahim appealed to Israel for military aid, at great risk to himself (in the region, seeking contact with Israel can be punishable by death): “The Arab countries do not recognize us, nor do they recognize you…Why should we be afraid to talk to you, when even neighboring Arab countries have become our enemies? We regard you as a friendly state, with an opportunity for relations on the basis of neutrality and respect.”
Israeli attorney Zvi Hauser, the cabinet secretary in Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2009-2013 government, was the first to respond to the plea for help: “The Yazidi narrative is evocative of ours. We, too, went through 2000 years of existence without sovereignty.”
Yazidis themselves have echoed this major difference between Jews and Yazidis: while we have similar histories, have endured similar atrocities, and have survived exile, Jews now have the protection of a state, whereas Yazidis don’t.
According to Yazidi refugee, genocide survivor, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and human rights activist Nadia Murad, “I have visited many parliaments around the world, but in the Knesset there was a different feeling. I know that being freed is a strong motive in the Jewish culture. I am trying to free my people and to give voice to the ones whose voices are silenced…Jews and Yazidis have a lot in common, also from a historical point of view. Most of the people I have met here in Israel have or had a family member who has gone through atrocities like the Yazidis.”
A BEACON OF HOPE
For many Yazidis, Jews and Israel are a “beacon of hope.”
In a 2018 lecture at Tel Aviv University, Yazidi refugee, genocide survivor, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and human rights activist Nadia Murad stated: “[The Jewish people’s story] is a unique story, and yet so much of it echoes my own community’s experiences. Like the Jews, the Yazidis have an ancient history thousands of years old. Despite recurring persecution, both our people have survived.”
According to Israeli PhD student at Tel Aviv University and unofficial Yazidi “ambassador” Idan Barir, “For [Yazidis], it goes without saying that we are brothers. First, because they see the Jews as a nation whose origins are in Mesopotamia…They are always saying that the Farhud pogroms against Iraqi Jews in 1941, in which several hundred Jews were massacred, was a precursor to what Iraq does to its minorities.”
He added that many Yazidis reach out to him with a desire to come to Israel and even to join the Israeli Defense Forces.
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