The Race to Save Iraq’s Historic Synagogues

March 7 2022

Following the depredations of Islamic State, there have been some attempts—by local Gentiles, Jewish organizations, and even the U.S. government—to preserve the physical heritage of Iraqi Jewry. Salam Faraj writes:

Baghdad’s Meir Tweig Synagogue, built in 1942, seems to have been frozen in time. Behind its padlocked doors, the benches are covered in white cloth to shield them from the sun. The walls of the sky-blue two-story columned interior are crumbling. The steps leading to a wooden cabinet holding the sacred Torah scrolls are coming apart. Flanked by marble plaques engraved with seven-branched candelabras and psalms, the cabinet shelters the scrolls written in hand calligraphy on gazelle leather.

A report published in 2020 listed Jewish heritage sites in Iraq and Syria, some dating back to the first millennium BCE. The study identified 118 synagogues, 48 schools, nine sanctuaries and three cemeteries among the Iraqi Jewish heritage sites. Most are now gone.

In Mosul, Iraq’s second city and a melting pot of diverse ethnic and religious communities, colorful paintings signal the ruins of the Sasson synagogue at a bend in an alley. The synagogue’s collapsed ceiling vault exposes arches and stone columns. But all around is rubble, scrap metal, and dumped garbage.

In January, the United States consulate in Erbil, capital of the Kurdish region, which did not experience the same level of internecine violence, announced $500,000 in funding to restore the small Ezekiel synagogue near Akre. . . . U.S. funds also helped restore the tomb of Nahum, one of Judaism’s minor prophets, along with financial support from Kurdistan and private donors.

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Iraqi Jewry, Synagogues

Will Costco Go to Israel?

Social-media users have mocked this week new Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich for a poorly translated letter. But far more interesting than the finance minister’s use of Google Translate (or some such technology) is what the letter reveals about the Jewish state. In it, Smotrich asks none other than Costco to consider opening stores in Israel.

Why?

Israel, reports Sharon Wrobel, has one of the highest costs of living of any country in the 38-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

This

has been generally attributed to a lack of competition among local importers and manufacturers. The top three local supermarket chains account for over half of the food retail market, limiting competition and putting upward pressure on prices. Meanwhile, import tariffs, value-added tax costs and kosher restrictions have been keeping out international retail chains.

Is the move likely to happen?

“We do see a recent trend of international retailers entering the Israeli market as some barriers to food imports from abroad have been eased,” Chen Herzog, chief economist at BDO Israel accounting firm, told The Times of Israel. “The purchasing power and technology used by big global retailers for logistics and in the area of online sales where Israel has been lagging behind could lead to a potential shift in the market and more competitive prices.”

Still, the same economist noted that in Israel “the cost of real estate and other costs such as the VAT on fruit and vegetables means that big retailers such as Costco may not be able to offer the same competitive prices than in other places.”

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Costco, Israel & Zionism