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Gooood Morning, Baghdad!!!!

The Jews were probably the single best educated and wealthiest group in Baghdad.
by Sheryl Katz Elias

On a brisk and clear day last April, a New York radio station matter-of-factly broadcast the time, the traffic conditions on the area bridges and tunnels, and the weather in the Greater New York Metropolitan area---and in Baghdad. At that point, the war in Iraq was having little impact on the daily life of ordinary citizens.

Even the gas prices were holding steady, and the daytime high and evening low temperatures in Baghdad sounded out of place next to reports of upcoming precipitation in Manhattan.

The relevance of weather fluctuations in Baghdad was not lost on the families of those serving there, of course. However, there was another group for whom the little details of life in Iraq had special significance: the Jews who were forced to flee Iraq and abandon nearly all their possessions from 1940-1970.

For most of these Jews, the Gulf War in 1991 provided them with their first opportunity to view footage of the streets where they once lived and the places where their synagogues and schools once stood. This war, however, offered something different: the possibility of return, whether for a visit or on a more permanent basis. Some relished that thought. Others preferred to forget Iraq entirely.

Although the Jewish community in Iraq dated back 2,700 years, by the time the most recent images of Iraq were being transmitted around the globe, nearly all of the Iraqi Jews were living elsewhere, mainly in Israel, some concentrated in the United States, Canada and Europe. The vast majority of these Jews left Iraq without anything tangible.

Exact figures regarding claims for lost property are hard to come by. In 2001, the Chairman of the World Presidium of the Organization of Jews for Arab Lands (OJAL) estimated the total value of property forfeited by Jews in all the Arab lands from 1922-1982 to be approximately $30 billion. A great percentage of that wealth represented property confiscated by the Iraqi Jews.

Suffice it is to say that when approximately 113,000 Jews were airlifted to safety by the Israeli government in 1950-51, as part of Operation Ezra and Nehemia, the Iraqi government only permitted the adults to take a maximum of 50 dinars ($140) and the children 20 dinars ($56). Left behind was untold wealth, valuable homes, businesses and real estate.

When things were good in Iraq, life for the Jews had its idyllic moments. Iraqi Jews recall with nostalgia sleeping on the rooftops of their homes under star- speckled skies, eating fresh fish from the Euphrates, swimming in the Tigres, drying apricots in the summer heat of Baghdad

Jewish life in Iraq, however, began to unravel in the mid-1930's. King Faysal, who in 1921 proclaimed all Jews, Muslims and Christians to be Iraqis, belonging to "one stock," died in 1933. His 18- year-old son, Ghazi, who succeeded him, did nothing to dampen the rising Nazi movement in the country. By 1935, Jews were officially banned from working in the Iraqi government.

And then, in 1941, any remnants of paradise for the Jews turned to purgatory. The Farhoud (the Arabic word for pogrom) occurred on Shavuot 1941. In two days of unrelenting violence, an estimated 180 Jews were slaughtered, another 800-1000 wounded, and upwards of 700 homes destroyed as mobs raged through the streets of the Jewish areas.

While the vast majority of the Jews left in the Israeli airlifts in 1950-51, those who remained until 1969 will never forget the day that nine of their brethren were hung in "Liberty Square," a day when the Iraqi government suspended the fare for buses and trams so the mobs could join in the festivities and celebrate under the gallows.

To fully understand the extreme and sudden reversal of fate experienced by the Iraqis from 1940 onward, it is necessary to appreciate the contributions made by Iraqi Jews to Iraqi society up till that point. From 1917-1932, under the British occupation and then the British Mandate, the Jews were probably the single best educated and wealthiest group in Baghdad , according to an article printed by Sara Manasseh, the daughter of Iraqi Jewish parents and printed in a newsletter from the Midrash Ben Ish Hai, an organization dedicated to restoring Sephardic heritage. Manasseh estimated that thousands of Jews in Iraq were employed in the postal service, railroads, ports, customs, and banking. Jewish delegates were even elected to the Iraqi Parliament.

The Jews left an indelible mark on the country. Naim Dangoor's story is a good example of just how prominent Jews had become in Iraq. In 1946, Dangoor's wife, Renee, was crowned "Miss Iraq." Dangoor himself was a major player in Iraqi financial circles. A graduate of an Iraqi military college, his business partner was the son of the Royal Chamberlain. In 1964, while Dangoor was in London with his family, he received word that Iraq had just passed a law requiring that all Jews return within three months or forfeit their property. Dangoor, who had built up a vast business enterprise in Iraq, and who, with his Arab partner, had just been awarded the agency to distribute Coca Cola in Iraq in 1964, choose to leave it all behind and at the age of 48 to start over again in England.

Dangoor was part of the last major exodus of Jews from Iraq in the 1960's and 1970's. Others did not wait that long. For example, my father-in-law, George Elias, left Iraq two decades before Dangoor, after a close brush with death on the River Tigris. Like Dangoor, he had moved through the ranks of Iraqi society, working first for the Royal Iraqi Air Force in the Meteorological Department, where he was paid in British currency. Later, he was employed in a prestigious post as a traveling inspector of accounts for the Iraqi State Railways. It was in this position that he crossed the Tigris River each morning by to boat to reach his office, generally an uneventful commute. But on one particular morning in 1941, the Iraqi Muslim rowing him and his colleagues across, drew a knife and removed his head covering, ready for violence. In response, one of the men on the boat quickly fabricated a tale about how he had issued a telegram the previous night which had resulted in the deaths of 100 British soldiers. This quick thinking engaged the knife-wielding boatman in a dialogue, and caused him to rethink his attack, allowing his passengers to escape unscathed physically, if not emotionally.

Unbeknownst to my father-in-law, that particular morning would later be referred to as the Farhoud. When he realized the full significance of the events of that day, he immediately applied for visas to England and the United States. A year later, he received a visa from the United Kingdom, and within 48 hours of its receipt, he departed Baghdad for good. His family, who followed later, was spared by the acts of brave Muslim neighbors, who personally turned back the bloodthirsty mobs and protected them.

While there was some build-up of anti-Semitism in the years previous, the Farhoud represented the turning point for Iraqi Jews. Six years after the Farhoud, in 1947, Jewish children were no longer accepted in government schools. A year later, in 1948, Zionism was declared a crime. In 1950, an official decree was issued confiscating all property of Jews "fleeing" to Israel; their bank accounts were seized, and an official government custodian was appointed to sell their assets.

The current perspective of Iraqi Jews regarding the land that they left has a lot to do with exactly when they departed. The longer they stayed, the crueler life became. Although Dangoor technically left in 1964, he was commuting between London and Baghdad well before then and had established ties in the UK. Thus, he was spared some of the violence experienced firsthand by other Jews in Iraq.

My father-in-law, who saw the shape of things to come and left in the early 40's, still has sanguine memories of Iraq. My mother-in-law, on the other hand, left through Operation Ezrah and Nehemia in 1950, and witnessed barbaric acts against the Jews. As a result, she would
prefer to forget Iraq.

Fuoad Mousaffi, an Iraqi Jew currently living outside of Tel Aviv, similarly has no use sentimental feelings for Iraq. If he went back at this point, he says, it would be purely for business. Moussafi left Iraq in 1970, when he was 23 years old. A man of few words, Moussafi recounts how he barely avoided a government-ordered execution. Moussafi worked with Arabs in Iraq and had many non-Jewish friends and acquaintances. One day, a good friend of his, who had contacts in the upper echelons of the Baath Party, advised him that both of their names were on a list of persons to be hung within 48 hours.

Without further ado, Moussafi, his friend and four family members traveled by car to the Kurdish region. There they were met by an Israeli representative, who smuggled them into Teheran and then to Israel, where Moussafi hooked up with an uncle and restarted his life. His brother and parents escaped by a similar route two years later. Moussafi says he has no sense of feeling a part of an Iraqi Jewish community in Israel and no nostalgia for Iraq. His children are "pure Israelis," although, with a chuckle he admits they enjoy "Iraqi food."

The Iraqi Jews are split on the issue of their former homeland. Some retain warm reminiscences of the country, while others nothing more than bitterness. And others take a more financially-oriented approach to the country, seeking to regain some of the of the property that was taken from them by the Iraqi government. An East Coast-based organization that calls itself the American Committee for the Rescue and Resettlement of Iraqi Jews is spearheading a drive to file a class-action lawsuit like the one filed against the Swiss Banks on behalf of Holocaust survivors.

Still others go one step farther. For them, reparations are not enough. It is a piece of the future that they are after. Naim Dangoor has kept one foot in the past and one in the future. In addition to publishing The Scribe, a newsletter sent to 4,000 subscribers in the Iraqi community worldwide, he has invested in the revitalization of Iraqi Jewish life in Iraq. Dangoor is the founder of the Exilarch's Foundation, which he says maintains assets of $50 million. Five years ago, he earmarked $15 million of that amount to reestablish a Jewish community in Iraq. According to Dangoor, while it may not be important to "individual Jews" to return, given Iraq's natural resources and its rich history — especially its distinction as the birth place of Abraham — "the Jews should have a presence there."

The Israeli government, too, is looking forward. Recent news reports indicate that they have sought a role in the rebuilding of Iraq, a role for which Iraqi Jews with their knowledge of the land, the culture and the language are eminently suited. And, ironically, Iraqi Jews seeking a stake in the rebuilding of their former homeland may find support in some surprising quarters. For while they were thrown out of Iraq by the Iraqi government, there are a significant number of ordinary Iraqis who warmly remember them as their neighbors and even pine for their return.

A website dedicated to the Jews who left Baghad in the 1960's and 1970's contains many reminiscences from Iraqi Jews as well as posts from those seeking to find lost friends. (www.thesite2000.virtualave.net/iraqijews ). However, it also contains posts from non-Jewish Iraqis, like the following from a Muslim living in Ireland:

"My late father...and mother...instilled in me the love of all Iraqis. I grew up in an Iraq of violence and craved to meet members of the Iraqi Jewish community. That was not to be (even though many of my late mother's patients and her tutors in the Royal Medical School, Baghdad, were Jewish.) May we all live to see a free Iraq, and may I hear the Jewish-Iraqi dialect spoken in Baghdad again."

The Jews of Iraq left their possessions, their homes, and a few even left their memories behind, but apparently they also left some admirers.

Israeli Life:
Jewish State, Iraqi Contributions
By Loolwa Khazzoom

From writers to musicians to the taste of sweet halqoun, Jews from Iraq have brought to Israel the sounds, smells and tastes of their centuries-old culture.


We arrived in Israel as lawyers, doctors, accountants, businessmen,” recalls Carmel Yehuda, owner of Ramat Gan’s Glida Mastik, the only store in Israel that sells the dense, sweet Iraqi ice cream. “But when we stepped off the planes in our suits and ties, we were sprayed with DDT. Ashkenazim looked at us as stupid barbarians from a backward country, and they thought we were dirty.” Yehuda pauses, then shakes his head.

“We were shocked and profoundly humiliated. You can never forget humiliation like that.”

But life goes on, Yehuda concludes. And so, despite its traumatic start, the Iraqi Jewish community picked itself up and strove ahead.

Five decades later, with the misery of the ma’abarot (transit camps) behind them, the community boasts prominent leaders of Israeli society: Thirty have served in the Knesset, and in the last Knesset alone 10 percent of members of Knesset were of Iraqi origin. Most of the Sefardic chief rabbis have come from Iraqi families, including Ovadia Yosef and Mordechai Eliyahu. Ten Supreme Court justices—including Eliyahu Mani and Abraham Halima—and about 40 judges on other courts have been of Iraqi descent.

Government leaders include Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, who has served as defense minister and Labor Party chairman; Dalia Itzik, who has served as minister of trade; and Moshe Levy, the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff from 1983 to 1987.

Amira Hess and Sami Michael, nationally renowned writers; Chemi Artzi, one of the founders of Israeli hip hop; Yair Dalal, an internationally known oud player; and Yossi Madmoni and David Ofek, Israeli movie producers, all are of Iraqi origin.

As the third largest Jewish community in Israel, the estimated 250,000 Israelis with Iraqi roots also have set up schools, synagogues, foundations—and restaurants—throughout the country to support the community and pass on the rich Babylonian Jewish heritage.

One prominent institution is the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center in Or Yehuda, a Tel Aviv suburb with one of the two largest concentrations of Iraqi Jews. “We couldn’t get back to Iraq and take photographs,” says Mordechai Ben-Porath, former member of Knesset and founder and chair of the museum, “so we collected all the memories.”

In addition to replicas of Jewish objects from Iraq, the museum boasts a collection of original artifacts that somehow made it out of the country. It also has a life-size exhibit of a typical street scene in Baghdad’s Jewish ghetto.

In the neighborhoods surrounding the museum, one can purchase Iraqi sweets such as the dense, white ba’aba el qadrasi made with egg whites, rose water, sugar, pistachios and a spice called tsiporn; louzina—a tangy, hard jelly made with orange rinds, almonds, sugar and a spice called heywa and often covered with coconut shreds; halqoun, which is a colorful, sweet, hard jelly covered in powdered sugar; the fried, spiraling light dough mix drenched in honey called zimgoula—one of the traditional foods for Purim.

In Or Yehuda as well as in Ramat Gan, another suburb heavily populated with Jews of Iraqi descent, one can easily find restaurants serving traditional Iraqi meals, including the all-time national favorite, kibba. A spicy meatball rolled with finely chopped onions and parsley, this delicacy is served in many variations, including kibba bughul—a deep-fried blend of raisins and kibba, covered in bulgur wheat.

Iraqi Israelis have also excelled in the activist world, leading movements for social change: They have been among the founders and leaders of the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries, which fights for compensation for Jewish refugees from the Muslim world; Ahoti, a national organization working for the rights of working-class women; and Hakeshet Hademokratit Hamizrahi, a high-profile activist organization for Jews of Middle Eastern and North African origin, where members joke about the group’s “Iraqi mafia.”

Hakeshet is one of the organizations addressing concern that the community’s quick and successful integration often came at the price of their distinctive heritage, with just a few tokens left of cultural preservation. “Iraqi Jews were in a trap,” says Shoshana Gabay, daughter of Iraqi Jews and one of Hakeshet’s founders and directors. “They had to disconnect from their homeland in order to be accepted in this country.”

Over the decades, Iraqi Israelis frequently faced hostility and ridicule. “Our conflict here is rooted in the pressure to bleach from ourselves all remains of our Arabic inclinations,” Gabay says. “Iraqi Jews were very much a part of Iraqi society…. When we left and came here, there was a huge crisis.”

Strolling through the streets of Or Yehuda or Ramat Gan on a Shabbat morning, listening to the winding quarter tones coming from the numerous Iraqi synagogues, one might not understand what Gabay is talking about. Even inside the buildings, with their characteristic ornate crystal chandeliers, Persian carpets and Torah scrolls traditionally cased in gold, silver and wood, it seems that Iraqi Israelis are doing just fine preserving their 2,600-year-old heritage. A closer look, however, reveals that these cultural markers are often on the surface only.

For example, in religious matters, Jews from Iraq traditionally have been among the most progressive communities toward women. Asenath Barzani, the first female rabbi of record, was from Mosul. In the seventeenth century, she was among the most well-re-spected rabbis of the Middle East and head of a prominent yeshiva. It is therefore no surprise that in twentieth-century Iraq, women were welcome to sing heartily from the second-floor women’s section of synagogues, where a low protective railing gave them full view of the services.

In contrast, in an increasing number of Iraqi synagogues in Israel, women must stay silent and are forbidden to sit next to men during community meals—a separation that never existed in Iraqi Jewish life. More and more, Iraqi Israeli synagogues are adopting ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazic practice, in the name of conforming to Israel’s religious ideology.

Women and men of the community, however, are creating alternatives. Yehuda Cohen, whose mother is from Baghdad, is one of several Iraqi Israelis participating in an egalitarian Mizrahi and Sefardi prayer group that meets monthly in Jerusalem—coincidentally called Degel Yehuda.

In Orthodox Mizrahi and Sefardi synagogues today, Cohen says, women “can’t sing, can’t pray, can’t give the weekly commentary on the Torah.” For this reason his wife, a Moroccan Israeli, never went to services with him. Since Cohen began attending Degel Yehuda, however, his wife and daughter happily have accompanied him. “It unifies the family,” he says. “It makes us feel the atmosphere of Shabbat.”

“On the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept for Zion…” reads Psalm 137. Arriving as captives from a destroyed Jerusalem, the ancestors of the Iraqi Jewish community learned to adapt to their new environment, while simultaneously passing on the torch of their heritage. Over the millennia, ancient traditions blended with local practice, creating the unique Iraqi Jewish way of life.

The same transformation seems to be happening today in Israel, but in reverse.

Loolwa Khazzoom (www.loolwa.com) is an Israel correspondent for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and editor of The Flying Camel: Essays on Identity by Women of North African and Middle Eastern Jewish Heritage (Seal Press).



Iraq Offers to Let Israelis of Iraqi Descent Vote
By Julie Stahl
CNSNews.com Jerusalem Bureau Chief
January 13, 2005

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Iraq's decision to allow all Iraqis -- including Israelis of Iraqi descent -- to vote in upcoming elections is "positive step" and "clear hint" that the post-Saddam government may be open to having diplomatic relations with Israel, an Israeli government official said.

Anyone who is or was once an Iraqi citizen, even if he was stripped of his citizenship, will be eligible to vote, Sarah Tosh, spokesperson for Iraq's out-of-the-country voting said, according to a report in the daily Ha'aretz on Thursday.

Voter registration will begin in four days. "There are no restrictions on Iraqis on the basis of religion, race or sex," Tosh was quoted as saying. "This definitely includes those who are Israeli citizens today," she said.

Iraqis are set to go to the polls later this month in their first democratic elections since the ouster of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

About 130,000 Iraqi Jews -- many of them wealthy -- left the country in the early 1950s following several years of anti-Jewish rioting connected with the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. They forfeited their Iraqi citizenship and were not allowed to take their possessions with them.

There are now an estimated quarter of a million Iraqi Jews and their descendants living here.

Israel's National Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer was born in Iraq in 1936 and immigrated to Israel in 1949. He said Iraq's announcement pleased him, because, although he doesn't plan to vote, it suggests there is an opening in the Iraqi government for relations between Israel and Baghdad.

"This is a very positive step," Ben-Eliezer said in a radio interview. "It's good that they opened the elections to everyone... In my opinion it is a clear hint...of the direction of this government," he said.

Saddam Hussein strongly supported radical Palestinian elements and paid the families of Palestinian suicide bombers at least $10,000 each during the Palestinian armed conflict. He also launched at least 39 Scud missiles at Israel during the 1991 Gulf War.

But Iraqi expert Dr. Ofra Bengio called the decision "bizarre" and a kind of "propaganda."

Most Israelis of Iraqi origin won't be able to vote because they would have to go to Jordan to cast their ballots and a special ID is needed, Bengio said in a radio interview.

She said she didn't think the offer to let Israelis Iraqi descent vote indicates a change in Iraq's position.

Jewish Daily Israel Today


Tuesday, August 25, 1987



Baghdadi Jews of India and the Sassoons


In the accounts of the historic role played by the Jews of Cochin and the Bene Israel, ancient Jewish communities in India, which date back, over 2,000 years, little reference is made to the Baghdadi Jews, Iraq, another important segment of the Jewish community established about 150 years ago in India. Very little is written and known about their remarkable achievements, their phenomenal success and their invaluable contribution to the economic growth and welfare of India in a short period of time, particularly in the field of two of its most important industries, at one time, cotton and jute. They were the builders of these two staple industries. They also rose to prominence in commerce and banking in which they were actively engaged and in which they distinguished themselves. They acquired an excellent reputation and were highly respected and admired.

The Baghdadi Jews. of Sephardic origin, came to India from Baghdad, Iraq, as individual traders in the early I 9th century and settled in Bombay and Calcutta, two large seaport cities, where they flourished and prospered. Once numbering about 12,000, today only a few hundred are left, most leaving of their own volition in 1948 for lsraels, England. Canada. the United States and Australia.

The Jewish association with Baghdad began long before its rise to lame with the Caliphate. Mesopotamia had been the second home of the Jews from the time of the exile by Nebuchadnezzar. In its golden age the Jewish population was the most influential community in the Middle East. It was the seat of the Exilarch, the Prince of the Captivity, the Academies of Sura and Pumbeditha, the birthplace of the Babylon Talmud, the home of the foremost scholars and personalities who left an indelible mark in the annals of Jewish history.

The Jews enjoyed an eminent position in the social and political life of the country rendering outstanding services to successful Ottoman rulers and Caliphs. Many of them became rich in banking and commerce. Their fortunes changed at the whims of the rulers, some of whom persecuted them, and from time to time, extorted large sums of money from them.

It can well be claimed that no Jewish community in the world whose integration was then the general background, has been as complete as Baghdad, by virtue of age and achievement. There was a time when one-quarter of the population was Jewish. Iraq, whose capital is Baghdad, was the first Arab state to gain independence after World War I, and individual Jews played a prominent role in the emergence of the Arab nation. How times have changed! This once large prosperous community numbering over 100,000, because of persecution and brutal assault, found it necessary in 1950-51 , to flee to Israel leaving wealth and possession.

When the Baghdadi Jews came to India in the early 19th century, they were quick to realize the great potential for the development of lucrative trades and with their experience, acumen and foresight, opened new foreign markets for indigenous products which were exported on a massive scale and were not only well received hut steadily increased in demand.

In turn they imported the products of the many countries with which they traded and built a very successful business. The pioneering efforts of the Sassoons, the leaders in the field, the Ezras, the Ezekiels. the Gubbays and others were a great boon to India and contributed in a large measure to the economic, political and diplomatic stability, widely recognized. They were primarily engaged in the gum trade, cotton. jute, opium, tea, spices, silk, wheat, wool, rosewater, silver, gold and the import of Arabian horses.

The famous House of Sassoon, the Rothschilds of the East, in particular, was actively engaged in the opium trade, which was legitimate in those days. Opium produced in India was exported on a large scale and exchanged for tea and other commodities in China, which were then shipped to England. In the early 19th century, the opium trade was very lucrative and volatile. Opium, only second to cotton, were the two keys which rapidly increased their treasuries and a vast fortune was accumulated.

India has grown Cotton for centuries using primitive methods for cleaning, ginning and manufacturing. There was a very heavy demand for raw cotton, so they took advantage of the situation and opened large, pressing, spinning and weaving mills and became the largest exporters of cotton. They built their own docks in Bombay, the Sassoon Docks, a landmark, to facilitate the handling and shipment of cotton bales. By the end of tile 19th century the Sassoons represented the largest conglomeration of cotton mills in India. giving employment to thousands, including many Jews.

The founder of the House of Sassoons. David Sassoon, known as the merchant prince, was forced to flee from his ancestral home in Baghdad in 1829 under the threat of a death sentence imposed by the then Pasha. Packed among his small belongings were a prayer shawl. his phylacteries and a copy of the Pentateuch. Strictly orthodox, he adhered to the dietary laws and the rituaas of the Jewish faith. His two natural languages were Hebrew and Arabic. The Sassoons were founders a  spectacular international trading empire based in Bombay, with offices in England, the Middle East. extending to the far East. They were the first to open branches in Japan after a new treaty was negotiated in 1858. They dominated Jewish life in Bombay in which they took a close an active interest. The history of the community centered around the Sassoons to whom it was largely indebted. They fathered the community which looked up to them for its needs from very earliest days and their philanthropy and generosity of a far reaching nature, widely spread, also benefited those of other sects and creeds.

The Jews lived literally in a “welfare state” established by the Sassoons and the many amenities enjoyed by them were provided “on a platter” by the good grace of she Sassoons. Several large Sassoon Charity Funds, richly endowed, unique its origin and Jewish history, were crested by them for the advancement of Jewish education, religion, culture and social welfare. Communal institutions vital to Jewish life were built by the Sassoons at their own expense with iuhstantial funds provided by them with perpetual maintenance made available free of cost .  Highlights included the Sir Jacob Sassoon Free High School. the David Sassoon Hospital in Poona with 200 beds for Jews and non-Jews, well equipped with a hostel for doctors and nurses, the David Sassoon Benevolent  School, the David Sassoon Industrial Reformatory, the Sassoon Mechanics Library, the Royal of Institute of Science, a Free Medical Dispensary for medical aid and medicines, cemetery with free lots and burial ;facilities, and the distribution of matzos and other products for Passover. An Utopian dream.

Prayers and worship were regarded of paramount importance and in the beginning they set aside a room for daily services where they assembled a “minyan” in devout worship. This was later followed by the building of three large attractive synagogues with ample seating accommodation (men and women seated separately), officiated by “Hakamim” maintained with funds provided by them and with no membership dues. 

The Ohel  David Synagogue in Poona. she Magen David Synagogue, and the Kenesseth Eliahoo Synagogue, both in Bombay, gifts to the Jewish community, glorify she devoutness of she Sassoons and well exemplify their Jewish consciousness, their piety and pride in their Jewish heritage.

It is significant to note that the Kenesseth Eliahoo Synagogue celebrated its centenary in 1984 when many distinguished guests, including the president of  India, Zail Singh, lauded the Sassoon family for the building of the synagogue and for the development of Bombay.  He stated, “The presence of Jews in India since ancient times has enriched Indian heritage and contributed immensely to our composite culture.” He referred to the visit  to the Cochin Synagogue of the at. prime minister of India, Indira, Gandhi, on the occasion of ii 400th anniversary, when she stated, ‘‘The Jewish community of India has rendered and continued to render notable service in many fields, it has contributed men of distinction to business and industry, to the civil service and the armed forces end so the world of scholarship.”

In the course of the years the Sassoons changed their Baghdadian richly embroidered turbans and flowing robes for Western attire and adopted language and manners of the English. They had gone long way from the time of David Sassoon. They became Anglicized, had close ties with the British, and associated with British royalty, aristocracy and the elite.

Their royal circle of friends included, among others. King Edward VII, the Duke of Windsor (laser King Edward VIII), and the shah of Persia. who were guests in their homes in England. Two branches of the family were knighted separately. Their history was one of success and outstanding achievements—a household name. They had is rabbi. a poet and scholars in the family who distinguished themselves, “a dynasty respected for centuries as defenders of sIte faith.”

Sir Victor Sassoon, the last in the family line of Baronets. raised she firm to “a pinnacle of world power and influence.’’ Well known magnate and philanthropist, considered the richest man in Asia, he was in the forefront of the war efforts of the British.

Very substantial funds and gifts were contributed by him and he was most outspoken in his denouncement of Nazi Germany and Japan. Propaganda Minister Goebells singled him out for vehement abuse in which he was joined by Goering with warnings of grave consequences supported by Japan. At that tune, practically all of she huge Sassoon interests were transferred from India so China with headquarters in Shanghai where he had very large holdings. He suffered very heavy losses in Communist China and Japan and his huge enterprises were confiscated.  He played a major role in the habitation of about 20,000 Jewish refugees who arrived in Shanghai, China to escape Nazi persecution. Food, shelter, and medical aid were provided on a massive scale and many lives were saved.

Other Baghdadi Jews who rose to eminence were Sir Sassoon J. David, his son Sir Percival David, Sir Alwyn Ezra, the Gubbays, Meyer Nissim. were also engaged in commerce sitd banking, In a population teeming with millions, it is incredible that this small community, established in Bombay a little over 150 years, not more than 7,000 in its height, brought so much benefit so the country, played a significant role, made its influence felt, flourished and prospered.  It enjoyed an excellent relationship with its Indian neighbors, also the British who ruled India at that time, did not suffer persecution or discrimination at any time, enjoyed religious freedom and equal opportunities.  India’s anti-Israel position did not disturb them, They dwelled in an environment as a separate entity without let or hindrance, observed Jewish laws and customs with an awareness of their Jewish identity, no intermarriage, and proud of their heritage. There was riot a single ordained rabbi but Hebrew scholars who were called “Hakamim.” They were contented and happy. Unlike the other Jewish communities in India, they were entirely unaffected by the creed or culture of their neighbors. They dwelled in neighborhoods in close proximity to one another, concentrated around the Sassoon Headquarters and the two synagogues in Bombay. They were staunch supporters of the British, took an active interest in the Zionist movement and got on splendidly with the Indians. A number of them were in the import-export business in which they did very well.  Amongst them were eminent doctors, lawyers, teachers, a judge, a mayor, movie stars and a noted film director.  They had their own social clubs and Anglo-Jewish publication.

Special mention muss be made of Abraham D. Sofaer, a Baghdadi Jew from Bombay, who was appointed to the federal bench in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter.  A scholar and prolific writer. he was an assistant U.S. attorney in New York City. As judge, he presided over the Sharon libel case against Time Magazine. In June 1986 he was appointed legal adviser to the State Department. He has expressed legal opinion relative to the handling of terrorism. Last December he headed the eight member U.S. Mission to Israel that worked out U.S. Israeli cooperation in handling the Jonathan Jay Pollard espionage case. The Washington Post stated, “An excellent achievement for a Jew born its Bombay, to end up as being a federal judge. a federal prosecutor and legal adviser.”

The departure of the British from India in 1948 and the creation of the State of Israel caused a large scale emigration which was completely voluntary, and brought an end to the fascinating history of a Jewish community which rose so great heights. Now they number no more than 500.


Joseph I. Sargon, born in Bombay, India, where he lived for many years was managing editor of the Jewish Tribune.  He was representative of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and the World Jewish Congress.  He now resides in Brookline, Mass.



Iraq Lobby Wants Ties With Israel
By Andrew L. Jaffee, September 3, 2004
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Haaretz reported today that a “powerful lobby is developing in Baghdad to promote the idea of diplomatic relations with Israel.” It seems only natural that a nascent democracy in the Middle East (Iraq) would want to develop ties with the only established democracy in that region, Israel. I’m sure this Iraqi lobby wants to learn not only about democracy, but also how the Israelis, with a tiny population of 6.5 million, have built a $122 billion economy. This is amazing news, but of course hasn’t been publicized at all. From Haaretz,

A powerful lobby is developing in Baghdad to promote the idea of diplomatic relations with Israel, the new Iraqi ambassador to Great Britain told Haaretz on Thursday.

Dr. Salah al-Shaikhly, who was appointed two months ago, said that the issue will be raised after the general elections, and "now is not the right time." Al-Shaikhly told Haaretz that he did not have "any problem with Israel or Israelis who wish to visit Iraq," but he also noted, "I really don't know what is the position as of yet, but you should know there is a strong lobby working for you in Iraq."

When asked if he was referring to the Americans, Al-Shaikhly responded, "No, I mean Iraqis, in Iraq, who want to establish relations with Israel, who are in favor of this idea. But the current situation is so uncertain, so volatile that any attempt to push this through, at this point, will most certainly backfire.

Israel wants diplomatic relations with Iraq
Iraq-Israel, Politics, 6/30/2004

Israel on Tuesday announced that it desires to establish diplomatic relations with Iraq.

In a televised interview with the American Hurra TV, the Israeli foreign minister Silvan Shalom expressed his satisfaction over the authority handover to the Iraqis, adding that " he will leave it for the Iraqi people to decide if they want relations " with Israel.

A spokeswoman for the Israeli foreign ministry said that Shalom " said that Israel wants to establish diplomatic relations with all the Arab states, and I do think there is no intention to boycott Israel and we do not have conflict over lands with Iraq."

Shalom added that the Israeli businessmen who are now in Iraq's Kurdistan are working on their own. He said " we will not do anything that violate the Turkish interests in northern Iraq."

Bomb attack on Jordan's  embassy in Baghdad
A burned vehicle sits outside the Jordanian embassy, 7 August 2003
The blast destroyed cars close to the embassy
At least 11 people have been killed and more than 50 wounded in a lorry bomb outside the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad.

The force of the explosion sent a car hurtling onto a rooftop and left body parts and debris strewn across the street.

Jordanian officials said all the identified dead were Iraqis.

The attack comes a week after Jordan wanted  Terrorist Al chalabi captured, Jordanian Information Minister Nabil al-Sharif said the attack was a "cowardly terrorist" act.

Witnesses outside the walled embassy compound said the bomb was concealed inside a minibus or sports utility vehicle. A Jordanian official said he thought a missile was fired at the vehicle to set off the explosives.

One witness said he saw the charred bodies of a woman and two childen still sitting in one of the burned-out cars nearby.

Correspondents say the  Chalabi Militia groups responsible for the regular attacks against US troops in Iraq are almost certainly behind this incident.

Iraqi resentment

In past years Jordan has found itself caught in the middle of Iraq's relations with the West, says our Baghdad correspondent Matthew Price.

Many Iraqis believe Jordan took advantage of tough UN sanctions on Iraq, acquiring cheap oil from the oil-for-food programme, while offering tacit support to Saddam Hussein's regime.

Jordan supported the US-led war in Iraq, allowing the US to use its territory for military bases.

Iraqis also complain that Jordan has frequently been reluctant to offer asylum to ordinary members of the public.

Jordan is thus resented both by Iraqis who opposed Saddam's regime and those who supported it, our correspondent says. Also Al Chalabi threatend Jordan constantly whenever Jordanian Officials called for the imprisonment of Al Chalabi.

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