Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Archive a reminder of vanished Jewish Baghdad

Visiting the Iraqi-Jewish archive exhibit in California brought tears to the eyes of Baghdad-born Joe Samuels. He describes the memories which came flooding back in his Times of Israel blog (with thanks: Michelle, Lisette):

The moment I stepped into the 2,000 square foot exhibit; the history of my childhood came alive. On display there was a high school certificate written in Arabic; it reminded me of my graduation in June of 1948. I was so excited to travel to America for higher studies. That dream evaporated when I was refused an exit visa.

A Haggadah (pictured), (Passover script) from 1902, reminded me of our Seder, when my parents, six brothers and my sister sat for the festive dinner after reading the Passover script. The aroma of the chicken rice with slivered almond and raisins and the taste of sweet and sour, lamb stew with apricot still linger in my mind.
The Torah scroll, unfortunately stripped from the silver or gold that had covered the wooden casing, reminded me of my Bar Mitzvah when I carried the Torah. It was so heavy.

Other Arabic documents included letters from the Chief Rabbi, Sasson Kheduri, to members of the community board, reminding me of how close I felt to others in this old, Jewish community, how rich it was in culture, how we had so much solidarity and helped each other.

It was a bittersweet encounter; seeing the exhibits brought tears to my eyes. At other moments the exhibit filled me with joy. I was grateful to the American government for making my Iraqi Jewish heritage come alive again. The numerous petitions from many Iraqi Jews, our children, and grandchildren, to US government officials, pleaded with them not to return the artifacts back to Iraq. 

The Congress, in Bill 113, voted to renegotiate with the Iraqi Government to allow the artifacts to stay in the US. The visit to the exhibit reminded me of my 19 years of life in Baghdad.

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