A new project to capture urgently on film the testimonies of Iraqi Jews recorded in the book Iraq's Last Jews has been launched in the US: the Iraqi Jewish Voices Project aims to counter the Eurocentrism of modern Jewish history. Report in the Times of Israel (with thanks: Lily):
NEW YORK — Although Oded Halahmy left Iraq in 1951, Iraq has never left him.
“Every aspect of my life has been influenced by my first home,
the ‘Land of Milk and Honey’ I remember from my childhood. Palm and
pomegranate trees dance in the wind,” said Halahmy, 79. “I can visualize
the narrow alleyways, the houses built of ancient stones with
beautifully sculpted doors, circular windows of exquisitely colored
glass. My memories of Iraq are real and alive, and my attachment to Iraq
is very strong. My Baghdad is the most beautiful place on earth, the
Garden of Eden.”
was 13 when he, his parents, his siblings as well as hundreds of other
relatives left for Israel. Now, as his generation ages, first-person
stories like Halahmy’s are slipping into the shadows of history.
“These are the very last years to capture firsthand accounts of
Jewish life in Iraq. There will be no witnesses left and so there is an
urgency to get the stories. It’s a last grasp. Mizrahi Jews account for
half the world’s Jewry, yet their stories remain virtually untold,” said
Tamar Morad, a writer and editor living in Israel.
That’s where The Iraqi Jewish Voices Project, IJVP, comes in. Using
black and white portraits, interviews, and scanned historical documents,
the multi-media project records the stories of the last Jews of Iraq
and what it was like for them to immigrate to Israel, France, the United
States and beyond.
The project aims to shift the meta-narrative of world Jewry in the
20th Century, which has almost always revolved around the history of
European Jewry. The bold initiative might just be the thread that
stitches the Jews of the Mideast’s past to the future.
Morad, who grew up in Boston, is of Ashkenazi descent. Her husband’s
family came from Iraq. In no time she realized the more she asked her
father-in-law, as well as her husband’s 105-year-old grandfather, about
what life was like in Iraq before they left, the more she wanted to
She found others wanted to share their stories as well. “You see the
eagerness of people to tell their stories. It’s the first time some of
them have told their stories in full,” Morad said. “It’s time the world
should know it. To progress we need to be educated about the past.”
Morad co-manages the project with Henry Green, executive director of
the NGO Sephardi Voices, and professor of Judaic and Religious Studies
at the University of Miami.
Morad is basing the project on the book, “Iraq’s Last Jews: Stories of Daily Life, Upheaval, and Escape from Modern Babylon”
— an oral history collection co-edited by Morad with Dennis and Robert
Shasha — and plans to revisit and expand on some of the people and
places featured in it.
The Iraqi Jewish Voices Project comes under the auspices of the
nonprofit Sephardi Voices (SV), which aims to collect thousands of
interviews of Jews who lived in Arab and Muslim lands. It wants to do
for the Jews of Arab lands what the Shoah Foundation did for Holocaust
survivors in collecting and preserving their testimony about life
before, during and after World War II, Green said.
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