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May 16, 2003 - Image 25

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-05-16

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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Judeophilia, cling to secrecy as if it were
life itself. The few dozen, aging Jews live
cloistered in neighborhoods scattered
around the city. Few of their neighbors
know their real identity, and that is the
way many want to keep it.
Outside the synagogue compound, a
tea vendor, Hussein Riad, 24, says he is
aware that Jews and the synagogue live
beyond the walls. He says he has no
problem with the Jews living in the
area. "They let me stay here," beside the
compound wall, "so what do I have to
complain about?"
By and large, the fire of anti-Semitism
has not singed most Iraqis. The anti-
Semitic chants heard round the Arab
world have not marred popular demon-
strations in Baghdad. Only once during
this reporter's three-week stay in Iraq
were specifically anti-Jewish chants
heard.
After Iraqi demonstrations two weeks
ago in the town of Falluja, American
forces opened fire on what it believed
were armed men in the crowd. The next
day, a small group of Iraqi demonstra-
tors marched on the U.S. encampment
in the area chanting, "We swear by god,
we must kill the Jew."
Baghdad, once a thriving cultural and
mercantile center for Jews, has few signs
of Jewish life these days. But the Jews
historical presence is still felt.
The first Jewish presence in
Mesopotamia dates back to the 6th cen-
tury B.C.E. when Babylonian King
Nabuchadnezzer captured thousands of
Jews and marched them back to the
present-day Iraq. He treated them well;
and until the late 1940s, it was not
uncommon for Muslim men to marry
Jewish women. Grocers, butchers, mer-
chants and doctors mixed freely with
their Jewish countrymen.
But despite the ensuing expulsion
after Israel's creation in 1948, several
wars pitting Iraqis against Israelis and
decades of Jewish life in hiding, flecks of
the Jewish influence on Iraq remain.
Some ancient, crumbling Victorians
buildings, all that remain of Britain's
colonial legacy, are decorated with Stars
of David.
In the Shurja mercantile section of
Baghdad, which suffered some of the
heaviest and most violent looting dur-
ing the war, the Jewish community con-
tinues to manage several buildings that
were not expropriated by Saddam
Hussein's government.
For his part, Sofer is lonely but des-
tined to die here. Asked why he never
followed the rest of his family abroad,
he pauses, inhales a short breath and
says, "I just could never bring myself to
leave my home, my country. ❑

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