NEW YORK — At the United Nations headquarters in New York City this November, Linda Abdul Aziz Menuhin was getting agitated. A Jew of Iraqi descent, she had come to tell her story at the Justice for Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries conference. However, after an emotional heartfelt speech from Lucette Lagnado, about her upbringing in Egypt and her father’s attempts to keep their family in the country, Menuhin couldn’t find the strength to read the words she had prepared.
“When Lucette was speaking about her father, I could hear my father,” she said to those in attendance. “My father was so fond of Iraq. I don’t know if he ever imagined that it would betray him the way it did.”
Menuhin is one of many Jews who grew up in an Arab country, who were then eventually uprooted and forced to leave their homes. Her story is one that is shared by approximately 850,000 Jews who lost their personal belongings, family members, and land.
Recently, the issue of Jewish refugees has gained steam around the world. Amid this rising interest, Menuhin has become the subject of a new documentary, “Shadow in Baghdad.”
Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Duki Dror, the film attempts to shed light on Menuhin’s years in Iraq and the circumstances surrounding her father’s disappearance.
After the Six-Day War in 1967, Iraqi Jews became defenseless targets. Three years later, Menuhin would flee the country, but her father, Jacob Abdul Aziz, stayed. He loved Iraq and the thought of having to sneak out was one he would not entertain.
Sadly, on the eve of Yom Kippur in 1972 he failed to show up to synagogue and was never heard from again. His abduction is the emotional center of the film, as Menuhin attempts to retrace her father’s steps, and hopefully provide closure to her story.
“I was trying at the beginning to [make a film] by myself, but I thought that was really a heavy duty undertaking,” Menuhin told The Times of Israel. “Because it was very emotional, I understood that I wouldn’t be able to make it.”
“Shadow in Baghdad” isn’t the only film where Menuhin has spoken about her father’s abduction. Back in 2004 she was interviewed for the documentary “The Forgotten Refugees,” in which she recounted her years in Baghdad publicly for the first time. Prior to that, she had found it too painful to discuss these issues.
Though it had been decades since she had left the country, the memories were still too raw.
“Some of the people I knew preferred to avoid this scenario at all, so they just subdued the issue,” Menuhin said. “They just pretended that it never happened and they went on with their lives.”
Menuhin’s experience with the first film would lead her to write and speak about the issue with greater frequency, which is how she and Dror ended up connecting.
The filmmaker, an Iraqi Jew himself, found Menuhin’s story to be a sad yet fascinating account of the persecution of Arab Jews.
“She had a compelling story,” Dror said. “It was the way for me as a storyteller to connect and understand that this could be a very interesting film to make on a subject that is almost non-existent in film.”
Before 2004, the topic of Arab-based Jewish refugees hadn’t gotten the type of attention one would expect for an issue affecting so many. Dror thinks most Jewish attention, at least on the film front, had been focused on the Holocaust, a fact that made “Shadow in Baghdad” that much more difficult to put together.
“It was a struggle to finance,” he said. “Because you can think about any films that you want, but the bottom line is that you have to finance it and you have to convince people that this is an important subject.”
As for Menuhin, she believed that silence on the issue — both from refugees and those with an overall knowledge and understanding of the topic — was what lead to it not being discussed at all in the first place.
“Since there was no mention of Jews as refugees from Arab countries, nobody really talked about it,” she said. “When you don’t speak about this subject in the media, it doesn’t make room for that in the narrative.”
However, after “The Forgotten Refugees,” those who had been affected began to speak up. Soon enough, places as far off as Canada were shining a spotlight on the Jewish refugee conflict. There was even interest in the Arab world, a point that’s illustrated in “Shadow in Baghdad.”