With just eight Jews still living in Iraq, a new organisation has been established to safeguard the heritage and interests of Babylonian Jewry.
According to Zvi Gabay, writing in the Spring 2008 issue of Nehardea, the journal of the Babylonian heritage centre in Or Yehuda, Israel - the declared aim of the World Organisation of Jews from Iraq (WOJI) is to represent Jews of Iraqi origin in any claim to the community property in Iraq.
The organisation would also aim to preserve the tombs of the Prophets Ezekiel, Ezra, Jonah, Daniel and Nahum and the tomb of Joshua the High Priest. It would also attempt to salvage the registries of marriage, deaths, and properties, currently in the community's offices in Baghdad, as well as Torah scrolls dispersed in synagogues, government and community offices inside Iraq and in Washington DC in the National Archives and Record Administration. Another important aim would be to locate the bodies of Jews who were executed during the regimes of Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr and Saddam Hussein and grant them a proper Jewish burial.
During the preliminary discussions at the Or Yehuda centre, it was agreed to set up a General Assembly of 120 members made up of prominent public figures, heads of Iraqi communities outside Israel and non-profit organisations. Eighty would represent the Iraqi community in Israel and 40 the Jews of Iraqi origin living outside Israel.
A WOJI steering committee met in London on 23 June to fix the date for the General Assembly and determine its agenda.
According to Zvi Gabay, a former Deputy Director General of the Foreign Ministry, Jews of Iraq origin have responded very favourably to the idea of this organisation. "I strongly urge all Jews of Iraqi origin to take part in this important task of setting up the organisation", he writes." The recent end of the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein provides us with a unique opportunity, which should enable us to reclaim our rights to Jewish property and assets in Iraq, as well as repossess artifacts and records of considerable historical value. Preserving the most influential Jewish community in the world is historically important for our generation and coming generations."
The roots of Babylonian Jewry go back to the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BC, the famous Yeshivot of Sura, Nehardea and Pumbedita and the codification of the Babylonian Talmud.
There are 240,000 Jews of Iraqi origin living in Israel and about 40,000 in other countries, from Sweden to Singapore. The Iraqi community is the third largest in Israel after the Russian and Moroccan.