(Photo: Larry Luxner/ Times of Israel)

(Photo: Larry Luxner/ Times of Israel)

By Larry Luxner - June 5, 2018

ROCKVILLE, Maryland — Even at the time of the early Muslim empires in the 7th century, Jews had already been established in Arab lands for hundreds of years.

Vibrant communities flourished throughout the Middle East, with synagogues dotting the skylines of major cities from Algiers to Aleppo.

Over time, the Jews built up an extensive cultural legacy — a cemetery in Sudan; Hebrew-language inscriptions in Iraq; hidden fortresses of ancient Israelites in Saudi Arabia. Around the time of Israel’s establishment in 1948, however, things took a turn for the worse as Jews were forced to flee the Muslim-majority countries.

Now, as climate change, human development and terrorism threaten to obliterate what remains, one nonprofit organization is racing to safeguard this legacy before it’s too late.

Since 2010, Boston-based Diarna (“our home” in Judeo-Arabic) has used the latest in 3-D digital mapping technology alongside traditional scholarship and oral interviews to document more than 2,500 Jewish sites in the Middle East and North Africa. 

Many of these sites are found in Morocco (460), Iraq (352), Algeria (320), Yemen (301), Tunisia (231) and Syria (63).

“When I talk about Jewish fortresses in Saudi Arabia, I get blank stares. But this highlights a forgotten history and also the sensitive nature of the work we’re doing,” said Jason Guberman, Diarna’s co-founder and coordinator.

Read More: Times of Israel