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About us

 

Founders

The idea for establishing The Center was at the initiative of Mordechai Ben-Porat. It came about as the result of the 1971 Or-Yehuda Council decision to allocate lots for creating community centers dedicated to various Jewish Diaspora communities. In 1973, the idea was solidified by government ministers, Knesset members, and public figures. In 1977, The Academic Council and The Research Institute were founded and the research infrastructure of The Museum began to take place in a room on HaYarkon Street in Tel Aviv.

 

The infrastructure included a library, archives, and collections. In 1980, construction of The Center’s building in Or-Yehuda was completed and all activities were transferred to it.

 

Passover, 1988, The Museum of Babylonian Jewry was opened with a large event attended by the President of Israel, Mr. Chaim Herzog.

Names of founders registered in the association's bylaws (1973)

Mordechai Ben-Porat // Shlomo Hillel // Yechezkel Kazzaz // David Fattal // Oved Ben Ozer

Adv. Shimon Ben-Yaakov // Shaul Sehayek

Names of founders who signed the scroll that was buried in the laying cornerstone for the center's ceremony (1973)

Victoria and Thomas Morad // Baruch Ovadia // Pinchas Sapir // Shlomo Hillel // Aryeh Pincus

Mordechai Ben-Porat // Shoshana Arbeli Almozlino // Shimon Ben Yaakov // Oved Ben Ozer // David Cohen

Yaakov Lev // Shaul Sehayek // David Fattal // Nazhat Katsav // Yechezkel Kazzaz // Nissim Shamai

Founders' Scroll laid at the cornerstone laying ceremony for the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center, February 19, 1973
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Shlomo Hillel

Shlomo Hillel was born in Baghdad in 1923, and at the age of 11 emigrated to Mandatory Palestine together with his family. After attending Herzliya Hebrew High School in Tel Aviv, he underwent agricultural training at Kibbutz Degania Alef and in Pardes Hanna. He played an important role in setting up a Hagana underground munitions factory near Rehovot, called the Ayalon Institute. He was also one of the founders of Kibbutz Maa'gan Michael.

Between 1946 and 1952, Shlomo was sent by the Mosad le-Aliya Bet to Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Egypt, where he was involved in underground Zionist activities. In this capacity he led a clandestine operation of flying immigrants from Baghdad to Yavne'el in 1947 (known as Operation Michaelberg). He also established in 1949 the illegal aliya route from Iraq to Iran and from there to Israel. Furthermore, he conducted successful negotiations with the Iraqi government concerning the airlift of Jews who had relinquished their citizenship, posing as Richard Armstrong, an alleged representative of an American airline that was actually working covertly with Israel (1950).

Shlomo Hillel was elected to the Second, Third, Seventh and Twelfth Knesset, and was the Knesset Speaker from 1984 to 1988. He served as Israel's ambassador to different countries in Africa (1959-1963), was a member of the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations, and was Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He served as Minister of Police (1969-1977) and Minister of Interior (1974, 1977) in different Israeli governments.

His book Operation Babylon, which was published in Hebrew in 1985, has been translated into English, French, German, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, Russian and Arabic. In 1998, he was awarded the Israel Prize for Special Contribution to Society and the State.

Shlomo Hillel has worked tirelessly helping Iraqi immigrants in Israel. The decision to establish the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center was made at a meeting held in his office when serving as a minister in the Israeli cabinet. He continued to assist the Center throughout all his years of public life, and filled the positions of Chairman and President in its first years of existence.

Shlomo married Tmima (nee Rozner), who worked for many years with dedication and industriousness helping the research and the library of the Center. Shlomo and Tmima have two children: a daughter, Dr. Hagar Hillel, and a son, Attorney Ari Hillel.

מרדכי בן פורת שלט משפחה_edited.jpg
Mordechai Ben-Porat

Mordechai Ben-Porat was born in Baghdad, Iraq on September 12, 1923. In his youth he was a member of the Zionist HeHalutz movement, which in Iraq was active underground; and sworn to be a member in the Haganah organization. Ben-Porat immigrated to the Land of Israel in 1945, via a month-long, illegal aliya. During Israel's War of Independence he took part in the Lod-Ramla and Latrun campaigns and completed the IDF's first officers' course, after which he served as commander of an infantry company.  In 1949 he was sent to Iraq by the Mossad LeAliyah Bet as an emissary charged with facilitating illegal aliya to Israel through the underground HeHalutz movement; he was responsible for helping young people who crossed the border from Iraq into Iran. Later, he organized and headed Operation Ezra and Nehemiah, which brought 110,000 Iraqi Jews to Israel. Ben-Porat was arrested four times during the course of his emissary service and was subjected to brutal torture, but engineered a heroic escape and reached Israel on June 14, 1951. His book To Baghdad and Back tells the story of Operation Ezra and Nehemiah.

Mordechai Ben-Porat completed political science studies at Hebrew University's Tel Aviv extension in 1955, and earned a business administration degree from Tel Aviv University in 1972.

In 1955 he was elected head of the Or Yehuda local council, in which capacity he served for fourteen years. In 1965 he was elected to the Knesset on the list of the Rafi party under David Ben-Gurion, proceeding to serve in the 6th, 7th, and 8th Knessets. In 1977 he was a member of Israel's mission to the UN. He was sent by the Jewish Agency, with the support of then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin, to facilitate the immigration of Jews from Iran after Khomeini's rise to power (1979), returning to Israel with the last group of Jews.

In 1981 he was again elected to the Knesset (the 10th Knesset) on the Telem list under Moshe Dayan, and received a ministerial appointment (1981-1984). Mordechai Ben-Porat was one of the foremost founders of the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center in Or Yehuda, and headed the Center during the periods 1973-1981 and 1985-2011. He has served as the Center's president since 2011 until his demise in 2022.

Mordechai Ben-Porat was named in David Ben-Gurion's will as a trustee to impart his legacy to the people of Israel. In 2001 he received the Israel Prize for his special contribution to Israeli society and to the State of Israel; he was also awarded a Menachem Begin Certificate of Recognition. In 2003 he received the Ben-Gurion Prize and the Albany, New York [Jewish] community's "Shofar of Freedom" Prize.

 
prof. Efraim Tzadka

Chairman's Remarks

Most of Babylonian Jewry immigrated to the land of Israel during the heroic Operation Ezra and Nehemia in 1950-1951. The story of the absorption of the members of this community is astounding. They reached the highest positions in academia, science, arts, culture and sport, economics and society, politics, the IDF and defense system, public activism and philanthropy. Those who escaped Iraq and moved to Europe, the United States, Canada and other countries also reached impressive achievements and contributed to the countries where they settled.

 

The Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center in Or Yehuda was founded to immortalize the heritage of a diaspora community which no longer exists. It is the largest center in the world for documenting, researching, collecting and preserving the spiritual treasures and art created by Babylonian Jewry. The Center was not designated to represent Iraqi Jewry alone and advance its interests. Rather, the opposite is true: the Center documents and perpetuates the extensive story of the heritage of the oldest of Jewish communities, an opulent heritage which became a part of the entire Jewish nation. This is what makes the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center so distinctive.

 

The Center attracts thousands of visitors each year who discover the history and culture of Babylonian Jewry and are exposed to its unique treasures. Every year, we expand the museum and open new exhibits with the assistance of the museum’s friends and supporters in Israel and worldwide. There is still much work ahead of us. The large room of safes at the Center includes valuable heritage and historic items waiting for the museum to expand so that we can incorporate them in new exhibits.

 

Among the immigrants in Operation Ezra and Nehemia were my parents, who immigrated with my older brother and me, a child not yet five years old. The family made its first steps in Israel at the Kfar Hassidim absorption camp near Haifa, where I also began first grade. I feel honored and privileged to have been chosen to serve as the chairman of the executive committee of the Center. I can promise that my colleagues on the executive committee and myself, who work on a voluntary basis, will do our best to preserve and develop the Center for the benefit of our generation and for future generations of the Jewish nation, in Israel and all over the world.

 

Sincerely,

Prof. Efraim Sadka, Chairman

Aliza Dayan-Hamama

GM’s Remarks

Since I joined the Center’s executive board, in 2014, I have had the honor and pleasure to be part of the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center, a valuable and wonderful institute whose aim is to commemorate the glorious legacy of the Jews of Babylonia.

In 2017, with my appointment as the Center’s Managing Director, I had the opportunity to join those who are involved in the important daily work of preserving this “jewel” and moving it forward.

 

As the daughter of parents who were active in the Zionist Underground Movement (Avraham-Nahum Dayan of blessed memory and Audrey (Sofer) Dayan), I grew up on the stories, the language, the pride and the culinary treats of this great culture.

My parents fled Iraq and journeyed to the Land of Israel illegally. They were caught, imprisoned and endured numerous hardships on their way to Israel. Once there, they also struggled quite a bit, moved around a lot, lived in transition camps and experienced the difficulties of absorption, until eventually settled in Nazareth Illit, a newly-founded town. They grew with it, and I, too, grew up there.

 

As the Center’s Managing Director, I consider as one of my greatest challenges bringing in younger people and encouraging the middle and younger generations to participate in the Center’s wide range of activities. I want our younger community members and their families to enlarge and deepen their understanding of Babylonian Jewry history and culture, thereby helping to preserve the legacy of our parents and grandparents.

I am doing my utmost to attract people of the most varied backgrounds to the Center, to see the exhibitions, use the resources, enjoy events at the Center, and to experience the beauty of our culture.

My door is open to any initiative, advice and request.

 

I wish us all much success,

 

Aliza Dayan-Hamama, Managing Director

aliza@bjhc.org.il

 
 

Board of Trustees

An international Board of Trustees has been established for the Center, composed of Jews of Babylonian descent from Israel, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada.

 

This is the Center’s highest authority, authorized to discuss and decide any matter pertaining to the Center. The members bear many tasks, including choosing the members of the executive committee and the audit committee, approving financial statements and budgets, choosing the honorary president of the Center and even granting awards to individuals who have made special contributions to the Center.

 

The Board of Trustees reaches its decisions based on a majority of votes.

 

Aharon Abudi  |  Eitan Akirav  |  Eli Amir  |  David Asia  |  Yitzhak Barzilay  |  Aaron Basha  |  David Basson 

Moshe Ben Atar  |  Ora Ben Atar  |  Shafik Benjamin  |  Rimon Ben Shaul  |  Yair Dalal  |  Meir Dekel 

Tsionit Fattal Kuperwasser  |  Sasson Gabai  |  Uri Gavriel  | Nora Haim Huri  |  Yaacov Hakham  |  Aliza Hamama-Dayan 

Yitzhak Hayek  |  Rony Hizkiyahu  |  Eytan Irani  |  Gilit Itzhaki  |  Jacob Jacob  |  Ezra Kama (Judge)  |  Izhar Kanne 

Hanna Kazzaz  |  Baruch Levi  |  David Leviatan  |  Shlomo Maoz  |  Esther Meir-Glitzenstein (Prof.)  |  Baruch Meiri 

Linda Menuhin  |  Yossi Muallem (CPA)  |  Noa Naftali‎‏  |  Yehuda Naftali  |  Shlomo Nimrodi  |  Yaron Oz (Prof.)

Jonathan  Peres  |  Liz Peri  |  Yehuda Sadik  |  Efraim Sadka – Prof., Chairman  |  Moshe Shahal  | Yakov Shaharabani 

Yisrael Shahrabani  |  Ayala Shashoua Miron  |  Aryeh Shemesh  |  Iris Shimonov  |  Gil Shohat  |  Vilma Solnik

Uzi Rabi (Prof.)  |  Avi Zamir   |  Kobi Yacov Zlicha  |  Yaron Zelekha (Prof.)

The Names of the Board of Trustees

 

The center staff

The Executive Board was established to manage The Center’s affairs. At least half of its members must be residents of Israel.

 

Members of the Board are authorised to prepare the annual budget and various financial statements; arrange the employment agreements; appoint members of the Board of Trustees and choose the CEO.

Supporters

The establishment and maintenance of The Center and The Museum would not be possible if not for the generous support of donors from Israel and all over the world. We thank each and every one of our donors for identifying with The Center’s goals and supporting them. The Center offers donors, various memorial opportunities. Please contact the chairman or CEO for more details.

 

Prof. Efraim Sadka, Chairman, 

babylon@bjhc.org.il

Ms. Aliza Dayan-Hamama, CEO, 

babylon@bjhc.org.il

 

Executive Board

The Executive Board was established to manage The Center’s affairs. At least half of its members must be residents of Israel.

 

Members of the Board are authorised to prepare the annual budget and various financial statements; arrange the employment agreements; appoint members of the Board of Trustees and choose the CEO.

 

Volunteers

Dedicated volunteers are an inseparable part of The Center and The Museum.

They dedicate their time and skills to various positions in all of the departments.

Those interested in joining the team of volunteers are welcome to contact us at:

03-5339278, or by email: babylon@bjhc.org.il

Field of volunteering

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