A Novel of the Jews of Baghdad and Budapest—and the Horrors of Mid-Century

March 7 2017

In Nine Love Letters, Gerald Jacobs tells the parallel stories of two fictional Jewish families, one in Baghdad, the other in Budapest; both live through the destruction of their respective communities and flee to London, where they eventually cross paths. Marina Gerner writes in her review:

Jacobs vividly captures the smells and sights of Baghdad. Emre, a watermelon merchant in the market, offers free samples to customers, who do not always end up buying from him. “Emre would react aggressively, waving his knife in the air.” A little later, Rivke, the matriarch of the Haroun family, “had good reasons to be anxious. For, although Emre was almost certainly harmless, others did brandish knives with more deliberate menace in the Baghdad of these days.”

In 1941, the Nazi sympathizer Rashid Ali al-Gaylani seizes power. The new Iraqi government supports the Germans and vilifies the British and the Jews, culminating in the Farhud, the Arabic equivalent of a Russian pogrom. “In the space of two days, 2,000 years of rich and fruitful Jewish life in Mesopotamia had come to a sudden, savage end.” . . .

In Budapest, where as in Baghdad roughly a quarter of the city’s population was then Jewish, we meet the family of Chaim and Sarah Weisz. To an Ashkenazi reader like me, this family’s setting is a lot more familiar—their deep love for literature and music and their intellectual debates, as well as the Hungarian way of life. . . .

Howard Jacobson has written that there is “a deceptive matter-of-factness about Jacobs’s writing which masks an exquisite sadness. His is the art of the refined miniaturist.” Jacobs deploys this skill to paint a moving triptych of joy and pain, as experienced by generations of Jewish families.

Read more at Standpoint

More about: Arts & Culture, Farhud, Hungarian Jewry, Iraqi Jewry, Jewish literature, World War II


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount