Should Jews Return to Iraq?

Dec. 20 2017

Last month, the current Miss Israel and her Iraqi counterpart Sarah Idan took a picture of themselves at the Miss Universe Pageant and posted it online. Idan subsequently has received numerous death threats and her immediate family has been forced to flee Iraq. Yet some Iraqi-born Jews are considering returning to their homeland, and there has been some reciprocity from the Iraqi side, as Ofer Aderet writes. (Free registration may be required.)

In December 2016, Iraq Day—a cultural exhibition organized by Iraqi students – was held at Imperial College, London. Prominent members of London’s Jewish community were surprised to receive an invitation to exhibit their books about the history of Iraq’s Jews.

“Our stall was the most popular one there and all the books were sold,” says the Londoner David Dangoor, who was born in Iraq in 1948 and left when he was ten. As he puts it, the Iraqi ambassador didn’t cringe when he saw that the books had been printed in Israel. . . Dangoor has already taken the first step to normalize his relations with Iraq [by gaining citizenship]. In London, he voted in Iraqi parliamentary elections. He says other Iraqi Jews have applied for passports too, but so far in vain.

“Many Iraqi Jews have good, warm memories of life there, which haven’t faded even after the [massive 1941 pogrom in Baghdad],” he says. “Many identify with Iraqi culture, music, and literature to this day.”

The Israeli author Eli Amir’s novel The Dove Flyer will soon be published in his native Iraq, where his books have been popular for years. His attitude is different. “I don’t think for a single moment of going back there, heaven forbid,” he says. “It’s over and done with. We have nothing to go back there for.”

Amir admits that when Iraq is mentioned in the news “it strikes a chord, but I also remember that the Jews were driven out of there as refugees with nothing. So I prefer my Jewish Israeli identity.”

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Read more at Haaretz

More about: Anti-Semitism, Iraq, Iraqi Jewry, Jewish World

The Proper Jewish Response to the Pittsburgh Massacre

Nov. 21 2018

In the Jewish tradition, it is commonplace to add the words zikhronam li-vrakhah (may their memory be for a blessing) after the names of the departed, but when speaking of those who have been murdered because they were Jews, a different phrase is used: Hashem yikom damam—may God avenge their blood. Meir Soloveichik explains:

The saying reflects the fact that when it comes to mass murderers, Jews do not believe that we must love the sinner while hating the sin; in the face of egregious evil, we will not say the words ascribed to Jesus on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We believe that a man who shoots up a synagogue knows well what he does; that a murderer who sheds the blood of helpless elderly men and women knows exactly what he does; that one who brings death to those engaged in celebrating new life knows precisely what he does. To forgive in this context is to absolve; and it is, for Jews, morally unthinkable.

But the mantra for murdered Jews that is Hashem yikom damam bears a deeper message. It is a reminder to us to see the slaughter of eleven Jews in Pennsylvania not only as one terrible, tragic moment in time, but as part of the story of our people, who from the very beginning have had enemies that sought our destruction. There exists an eerie parallel between Amalek, the tribe of desert marauders that assaulted Israel immediately after the Exodus, and the Pittsburgh murderer. The Amalekites are singled out by the Bible from among the enemies of ancient Israel because in their hatred for the chosen people, they attacked the weak, the stragglers, the helpless, those who posed no threat to them in any way.

Similarly, many among the dead in Pittsburgh were elderly or disabled; the murderer smote “all that were enfeebled,” and he “feared not God.” Amalek, for Jewish tradition, embodies evil incarnate in the world; we are commanded to remember Amalek, and the Almighty’s enmity for it, because, as Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik explained, the biblical appellation refers not only to one tribe but also to our enemies throughout the ages who will follow the original Amalek’s example. To say “May God avenge their blood” is to remind all who hear us that there is a war against Amalek from generation to generation—and we believe that, in this war, God is not neutral.

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More about: Amalek, Anti-Semitism, Judaism, Religion & Holidays