Saving the Last Synagogue in Mosul

A century ago, the Iraqi city of Mosul—which encompasses the site of the biblical Nineveh—was home to Kurds, Arabs, and Turks and Sunni Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, and Jews. But the anti-Semitism of the mid-20th century and the more recent depredations of Islamic State have changed that. No Jews remain, although other religious minorities do—along with a historic synagogue. Rebecca Anne Proctor relates efforts to preserve it:

The graceful pointed arches and brickwork in muted earth tones—azure blue, burnt sienna, and yellow ochre—evoke a long-ago Jewish past in the now nearly ruined Sassoon Synagogue in the old Jewish quarter of this northern Iraqi city. It is the only surviving synagogue in Mosul, which, prior to Israel’s creation in 1948, was home to a thriving Jewish population of nearly 6,000. Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the synagogue has been used to dump garbage, its mikveh transformed into a barn for horses.

Now, an effort led by several Iraqi Jews is underway to preserve the synagogue, and with it the Jewish heritage of Mosul that is in peril of being lost forever. The effort comes as numerous international cultural organizations dedicate funds and manpower to rebuilding the city’s important historic landmarks, such as the Great Mosque of al-Nuri and its distinctive “hunchback” leaning minaret, both of which Islamic State blew up in 2017, and Our Lady of the Hour Church (al-Sa’aa in Arabic).

But for those . . . trying to save the Sassoon Synagogue, a significant roadblock has recently emerged, one that puts the effort squarely in the crosshairs of the complicated politics of the Middle East: . . . the Iraqi parliament passed a law in May 2022—“Criminalizing Normalization and Establishment of Relations with the Zionist Entity”—that has made it nearly impossible to move forward. The law forbids any Iraqi inside or outside the country from connecting with any Israeli, or any Zionist. Those who disobey face the prospect of life in prison or even death.

Read more at Jewish Insider

More about: Anti-Semitism, Architecture, Iraq, Iraqi Jewry, Synagogues

How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus