Iraq in Israel

Ancient Jewish Community
of Iraq

ben and rahel
to play the dabouka

By the rivers of Babylon, there
we sat down,  we also wept, when we remembered Zion.” Psalms

After the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in the
years 587-539 BCE, the Jews were exiled to Babylonia. But Babylonian
Jewry — or the Jews of Iraq — never assimilated.

Once a thriving center of Jewry, scholarship [Babylonian Talmud],
and great Jewish thinkers, present day Iraqi Jews left their homes as
refugees with barely the clothes on their backs. A single metal suitcase,
which served the dual purposes of encumbering the flight to Eretz Yisrael
and preventing smuggling, was the “luggage” of the newly arrived Iraqi Jews
from 1942 on. Nicknamed the perfect diaspora, the Jews of Iraq knew how to
switch from one culture to another in order to survive, and even flourish,
within each regime.



But the pogroms of 1942
were a modern-day turning point for the Jews of Iraq. They understood that
survival necessitated leaving Iraq and making their way to Eretz Yisrael.
Property was confiscated, and Jews were forced to remove the Star of David
— not because it was a Jewish symbol, but rather a symbol of Zionism –
from tefilin bags. Underground organizations, like the HeHalutz Movement,
and the Haganah Organization

[Hashura] sprang up, to train future leaders and to protect Jews.

In previous centuries, Jews were well-accepted in Babylonia and held
positions of authority in the government. Baghdad, situated on the left
bank of the Tigris River, was close to the two centers of Jewish spiritual
life, Sura and Pumbedita.

Iraqi Torah Scrolls

During the 12th Century the
Jews of Baghdad were allowed to self-govern. The calif Al-Muktafi appointed
a wealthy man, Samuel benHisdai, Resh Galuta [head of community — exilarch]
in Baghdad. Benjamin of Tudela, and Pethahiah of Regensburg, Jewish
travelers of this period, visited Baghdad. According to Benjamin of
Tudela, at the time of his visit there were numerous synagogues, over
1,000 Jewish families, and 10 rabbinical schools. It was the Sadya Gaon
of Babylon who fought the Karaites and
their interpretation of Jewish life.

To learn more about the Jewish heritage of Babylonia, we
visited The Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center in Or Yehuda, just
outside of Tel Aviv. In one of those “only in Israel” moments, we
were amazed to learn that on one side of her family, our guide was
a member of the David family, a family of Karaite heritage. As Rahel
David led us on a tour of the museum, she personalized the visit by
playing Oriental musical instruments like the oud and the dabouka An anthropology
student specializing in Oriental music at Bar Ilan University in Ramat
Gan, Rahel spoke of the richness of Oriental music, so unlike Western music
in its beat and rhythms, and how she uses music to commmunicate with problematic
children at an after-school
learning center
where she volunteers.

Text and photos by J. Isaacson


The Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center

83 Ben-Porat Road

Or-Yehuda 60251

Sunday-Thursday: 8:30-15:30

Tuesday: 8:30-19:00

Friday: 8:30-13:00

Tel: +972-3-5339278/9

Fax: +972-3-5339936

tip Visit The Babylonian
Jewry Heritage Center

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