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The Last Jews in Baghdad: Remembering a Lost Homeland

Overview

Once upon a time, Baghdad was home to a flourishing Jewish community. More than a third of the city's people were Jews, and Jewish customs and holidays helped set the pattern of Baghdad's cultural and commercial life. On the city's streets and in the bazaars, Jews, Muslims, and Christians—all native-born Iraqis—intermingled, speaking virtually the same colloquial Arabic and sharing a common sense of national identity. And then, almost overnight it seemed, the state of Israel was born, and lines were drawn between...

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The Last Jews in Baghdad: Remembering a Lost Homeland

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Overview

Once upon a time, Baghdad was home to a flourishing Jewish community. More than a third of the city's people were Jews, and Jewish customs and holidays helped set the pattern of Baghdad's cultural and commercial life. On the city's streets and in the bazaars, Jews, Muslims, and Christians—all native-born Iraqis—intermingled, speaking virtually the same colloquial Arabic and sharing a common sense of national identity. And then, almost overnight it seemed, the state of Israel was born, and lines were drawn between Jews and Arabs. Over the next couple of years, nearly the entire Jewish population of Baghdad fled their Iraqi homeland, never to return.

In this beautifully written memoir, Nissim Rejwan recalls the lost Jewish community of Baghdad, in which he was a child and young man from the 1920s through 1951. He paints a minutely detailed picture of growing up in a barely middle-class family, dealing with a motley assortment of neighbors and landlords, struggling through the local schools, and finally discovering the pleasures of self-education and sexual awakening. Rejwan intertwines his personal story with the story of the cultural renaissance that was flowering in Baghdad during the years of his young manhood, describing how his work as a bookshop manager and a staff writer for the Iraq Times brought him friendships with many of the country's leading intellectual and literary figures. He rounds off his story by remembering how the political and cultural upheavals that accompanied the founding of Israel, as well as broad hints sent back by the first arrivals in the new state, left him with a deep ambivalence as he bid a last farewell to a homeland that had become hostile to its native Jews.

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Editorial Reviews

Sephardic Heritage Update
The Last Jews in Baghdad is a brilliantly written précis of interlinked miniatures that serves as a metonymy of life in the Middle East in the twentieth century. It tells the tale of a young man who struggled along with his family to survive materially and developed socially into a luminous intellectual homme de lettres in a world that was being shaken to its very core.
Jerusalem Post
This is a book to be enjoyed by the general reader interested in a productive Jewish community that has completely disappeared, and by scholars, who will consider it a valuable source for their studies.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780292726888
  • Publisher: University of Texas Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/2004
  • Pages: 270
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Nissim Rejwan is currently a Research Fellow at the Harry S Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Over a distinguished, six-decade career as a historian and journalist, he has published a dozen books, including The Jews of Iraq: 3000 Years of History and Culture and Israel's Place in the Middle East: A Pluralist Perspective, for which he won the 1998 National Jewish Book Award for Israel Studies.
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Table of Contents

Foreword. Jews as Native Iraqis: An Introduction by Joel Beinin
Preface. On Taking Stock
1. In Old Baghdad
2. The Rejwan Tribe
3. Mother and the Placebo Effect
4. Nàima
5. Early Initiations
6. Schooling
7. The Great Crash and Us
8. Hesqail Abul 'Alwa Hires a Helper
9. Living in Sexual Deprivation
10. Idle Days
11. Distorted Visions
12. Rashid 'Ali's Coup and its Aftermath
13. Bookshop Days
14. A Deepening Friendship
15. The Start: Movies, Book Reviews
16. Out in the Cold
17. Disposing of a Library
18. End of a Community
19. Farewells and Reunions
Appendix A. The Jews of Iraq: A Brief Historical Sketch
Appendix B. A Selection of Book Reviews from the Iraq Times
Index of Names of Persons
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