Monday, June 28, 2010

How one young woman kept her promise to Ezra

The tomb of Ezra at Uzair, near Basra

This story's still being told in Iraqi-Jewish circles. Let's call it the story of O.

A young woman - call her O. - attended a Sephardi synagogue in the US some years ago. She struck up a conversation in Arabic with some of the congregants, who came from Iraq. " What's a Muslim doing in our synagogue?" the congregants muttered to each other - for the young woman did not speak Judeo-Arabic, with its distinctive accent and pronunciation.

It turned out the young woman was a Jew who had recently arrived from Basra. There had been so few Jews in the city that O. had never learned to speak Judeo-Arabic. As one of the few dozen Jews still living in Iraq under Saddam's rule in the late 1990s, her dearest wish was to leave. But the government were holding the tiny Jewish community as virtual hostages.

It was customary for Jews in Iraq to go on pilgrimage to the tombs of Jewish prophets in order to seek divine intervention to help fulfil their deepest desires. O. decided to go to the shrine of Ezra the Scribe at Uzair, near Basra. She prayed for Ezra to help her to leave Basra. If her wish came about, she promised that she would donate a new parokhet (hand-embroidered cover) for the tomb.

Time passed and the young woman fulfilled her wish to leave Basra for the US. But it rankled with her that she was not able to keep her promise to Ezra - and deliver a new parokhet to his tomb.

With the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the young woman was suddenly presented with the opportunity to go back to Iraq as an interpreter for the CPA. The decision was not easy - after all, for so many years she had wanted nothing more than to leave Iraq.

But she had a promise to keep. She returned to Iraq, bringing with her a rich, velvet, elaborately embroidered parokhet for Ezra.

But the Jewish prophet had another reward in store for O. While in Iraq she met her future husband, an American-Jewish diplomat.

She accompanied her husband on his next posting - to Algeria.

The posting after that was back to Iraq. But at that point, after everything she had done to leave Iraq, O. decided that she had had enough of living in Arab countries.

O. moved to Israel. Her husband is believed to travel back from Iraq to see her at regular intervals.

1 comment:

Juniper in the Desert said...

Lovely story! thank you :))