Rescuing Iraqi Jews
Former Detroit shaliach heads secret mission to bring Jews to Israel.
without authorities accompanying
them, and Kaye found the Jews he
visited scared and on guard.
Before the 1950s, there were many
synagogues in Baghdad and more
than 200,000 Iraqi Jews, Kaye said.
"Since then, over 100,000 Jews
came to Israel, including my wife's
parents," he said.
Yet, when Hussein's regime ended
this year, Kaye said, the Jewish situa-
tion got worse. When American
authorities took over, the danger for
Jews rose dramatically.
hile the United States-
led coalition waged war
against the Iraqi dicta-
tor Saddam Hussein
earlier this year, the Jewish Agency for
Israel had its own personal mission to
accomplish in Iraq.
Agency officials had a partial list of
Jews still in Baghdad and they knew
others were in places like Basra and
the Kurdish area of the country. Their
plan? Get an agency representative
into Baghdad as soon as possible to
check on the physical welfare of the
Jews, and help those who wanted to
leave get to Israel.
The agency sent Israeli Jeff Kaye,
director of resource development and
public affairs for the Jewish Agency
and former Detroit shaliach (emissary)
"It was a scary mission, a harrowing
experience," said Jane Sherman of
Franklin, chairman of the United
Israel Appeal, who knew about the
In a phone interview from Israel,
Kaye played down his personal danger
and focused on his goal.
"I had a sense that my mission was
on behalf of world Jewry — you are
not alone — and that's our strength,"
His organization is about global
Jewish partnership. "We're on the
ground very quickly any place in the
world where Jews are in danger
whether it be Kosovo, Chechnya,
Ethiopia or Argentina."
Never Any Doubt
"It was clear to us the moment there
were attempts to get into Baghdad,
that that's where we had to be," Kaye
In June, Kaye, 43, was the first rep-
resentative of any Jewish organization
to get into Baghdad, he said.
"Americans were aware that I was
coming, but I can't discuss how I got
there because I may want to go back,"
said Kaye, who was born in Scotland
and made aliyah to Israel after gradu-
ating from college.
So far, Kaye said, he has brought
Jews Finally Home
Former Detroit shaliach Jeff Kaye
children in the synagogue community
out three groups of Iraqi Jews — six
he visited. The last Jewish wedding
from Baghdad on his first visit, 17
there was in the late 1970s.
from the northern Iraqi area and just
"But the people on my list were not
last week, a few more.
the only Jewish people there," Kaye
"The first time I got to Baghdad, it
said. "Everyone I
was a shaky situa-
spoke to told me
tion," he said.
about other Jews
He used local
who had either
people to translate
assimilated or were
for him and head-
living quietly (out-
ed for the one syn-
side the Jewish
Baghdad, which is
said there were
watched by author-
Jews, but we don't
"My task was to
make contact with
about the condition
the Jewish commu-
of the Iraqi Jews
nity to see what
Sallah Levi is an Iraqi Jew
the situation was
Hussein's rule, Kaye
rescued by Kaye a nd now
like and what they
said they were kept
living in Israel.
alive, not killed.
What he found, he
"Since 1969, when a number of
said, was shocking. "A man was lack-
Jews were hanged in Baghdad, Jewish
ing insulin, elderly people were in
poor situations and there was no regu- property was confiscated and their
assets taken away, including Torah
lar flow of water."
He also found that a majority of the scrolls and archives," he said.
Jews couldn't visit the synagogue
Tews there were elderly. There were no
Of those Iraqi Jews Kaye brought
back to Israel, most are doing very
well. They are living in Jewish Agency
settlement housing or apartments and
Most moving for Kaye was seeing
"Some of the new arrivals had fami-
ly members in Israel they hadn't seen
since the 1950s. It was so satisfying to
see them finally home in Israel," said
Kaye, who was on a similar mission
when he was only 19, and made con-
tact with Jews in Moscow, St.
Petersburg and Kiev. Many of those
Jews now live in Israel.
Older Jews still in Iraq who refused
to leave were given medical attention.
Others, in their 40s, stayed to care for
the elders, and they also feel a respon-
sibility to the Jewish community,
But before leaving, Kaye made
arrangements for their security and
"Jeff is a guy who was never afraid
of challenge, never afraid to think out
of the box, and never afraid to do
what it takes to help Jews," said
Hannan Lis, president of the Jewish
Community Center of Metropolitan
Detroit. "Jeff was the most successful
shaliach this community ever had."
Kaye said the Jewish Agency is
directly connected to Detroit and
other cities around the world where
Jews are making donations to their.
"There is a direct line from Super
Sunday contributions and the ability
for someone like myself to rescue Jews
in Baghdad." ❑