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November 06, 2008 - Image 82

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2008-11-06

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The Man From Zakho

Sandee Brawarsky

Special to the Jewish News

T

here are no more Jews in
Zakho. Once the center of
Jewish activity in Kurdish
Iraq, the isolated town, a dusty vision
of biblical landscape, was known
as the "Jerusalem of Kurdistan."
Residents spoke the ancient Aramaic
language, which they kept alive, along
with their faith and distinctive culture,
for almost 3,000 years.
In the 1950s, after the Iraqi gov-
ernment turned against the Jews,
the entire community moved to
Israel, as part of Operations Ezra and
Nehemiah. More than 120,000 Jews
were airlifted from Iraq, including
18,000 Kurdish Jews; other Kurdish
Jews arrived from Syria and Iran.
Yona Sabar was born in Zakho,
and was the last boy to have his bar
mitzvah there. He lived in a mud home
whose roof his family sometimes slept
on in the heat; and he enjoyed meet-
ing his grandfather in shul, where
the old man sat up every night, con-
versing with the angels. In Israel, his
once-successful merchant family was
impoverished; while the Muslims and
Christians in Zakho had respected
them, the Kurds were looked down

on as the very lowest class in the new
State of Israel.
Sabar, unlike most of his fellow vil-
lagers, graduated from high school in
Israel (while working full time to help
support his family) and the Hebrew
University, where he studied language
with a special interest in Aramaic. He
received his doctorate in Near East
Languages and Literature from Yale
and now is a distinguished professor
at University of California Los Angeles.
The remarkable arc of Sabar's
life is at the center of his son Ariel
Sabar's outstanding book, My Father's
Paradise: A Son's Search for His Jewish
Past in Kurdish Iraq (Algonquin;
$25.95). In telling his father's story
intertwined with the family's tales,
journalist Sabar reconstructs the little-
known history of the Kurdish Jews,
who lived in harmony with their non-
Jewish neighbors. In Zakho, Muslims
would bring tea to their Jewish
neighbors on Shabbat, when the Jews
weren't able to cook. Jewish men wore
the same baggy trousers and embroi-
dered shirts as Muslims, "even if a
few strands of tzitzit poked out from
beneath their shirts."
My Father's Paradise also is a deeply
personal story of a distant father and
son who were ultimately reconciled.

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p

eter Ney's 7th birthday
seemed like a terrible night-
mare at first — crashing
sounds unlike anything he ever heard, t
the furnishings in his family's apart-
ment destroyed and left covered with
shards from broken windows.
The youngster soon realized the
horrors he faced were real, rampant
and part of Kristallnacht, the time of
intense destruction carefully planned
by the Nazis against Jews living in
Germany, Austria and Sudetenland.
Ney's recollections, 70 years later,
are joined with the recollections
of other survivors in a new book,
48 Hours of Kristallnacht: Night of
Destruction/Dawn of the Holocaust: An
Oral History (Lyons Press; $19.95).
Author Mitchell Bard presents

essays based on testimonies of people
who lived through the hours of Nov. 9-
10, 1938, and he documents the Nazi
commands that spawned the destruc-
tion by soldiers and non-Jewish citi-
zens.
"I wanted to capture the emotions
of Kristallnacht that too often get lost
in numbers and statistics:' explains

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