Times: The Last Jews in Iraq

Baghdad Jews Have Become a Fearful Few


BAGHDAD — “I have no future here to stay.”

Written in broken English but with perfect clarity, the message is a stark and plaintive assessment from one of the last Jews of Babylon.

The community of Jews in Baghdad is now all but vanished in a land where their heritage recedes back to Abraham of Ur, to Jonah’s prophesying to Nineveh, and to Nebuchadnezzar’s sending Jews into exile here more than 2,500 years ago.

Just over half a century ago, Iraq’s Jews numbered more than 130,000. But now, in the city that was once the community’s heart, they cannot muster even a minyan, the 10 Jewish men required to perform some of the most important rituals of their faith. They are scared even to publicize their exact number, which was recently estimated at seven by the Jewish Agency for Israel, and at eight by one Christian cleric. That is not enough to read the Torah in public, if there were anywhere in public they would dare to read it, and too few to recite a proper Kaddish for the dead.

Among those who remain is a former car salesman who describes himself as the “rabbi, slaughterer and one of the leaders of the Jewish community in Iraq.”

Although many of his Muslim friends and immediate neighbors know he is Jewish (“I’m proud, I’m Jewish, not ashamed. I’m not hiding,” he wrote at one point.), he was wary of being named because it could draw more dangerous attention to him or his friends. To protect him, he is referred to as Saleh’s grandson, because his or his father’s name would be too easily recognizable here. Interviews with him were conducted by correspondence over the course of several months.

He lamented that Jews in Baghdad had had no meeting place since the Meir Tweig synagogue, the last in the city, was closed in 2003, after it became too dangerous to gather openly.

“I do my prayer in my house because we closed the synagogue from the war until now...
Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images for The New York Times

The tomb of the Prophet Ezekiel in Kifl, south of Baghdad, used to be a pilgrimage site for Jews. It is one of few traces that remain of a once-vibrant Jewish community in Iraq. A pogrom in 1941 and other traumas led to a sharp decline in the Jewish population.

Jews were once a wealthy and politically active part of Iraqi society. Then came an exodus.

1 comment:

John D. Enright said...

Sad. Really sad state of affairs.