The Last Jews in Baghdad: Remembering a Lost Homeland

Hardcover | October 1, 2011

byNissim RejwanForeword byJoel Beinin

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Once upon a time, Baghdad was home to a flourishing Jewish community. More than a third of the city's people were Jews, and Jewish customs and holidays helped set the pattern of Baghdad's cultural and commercial life. On the city's streets and in the bazaars, Jews, Muslims, and Christians—all native-born Iraqis—intermingled, speaking virtually the same colloquial Arabic and sharing a common sense of national identity. And then, almost overnight it seemed, the state of Israel was born, and lines were drawn between Jews and Arabs. Over the next couple of years, nearly the entire Jewish population of Baghdad fled their Iraqi homeland, never to return.

In this beautifully written memoir, Nissim Rejwan recalls the lost Jewish community of Baghdad, in which he was a child and young man from the 1920s through 1951. He paints a minutely detailed picture of growing up in a barely middle-class family, dealing with a motley assortment of neighbors and landlords, struggling through the local schools, and finally discovering the pleasures of self-education and sexual awakening. Rejwan intertwines his personal story with the story of the cultural renaissance that was flowering in Baghdad during the years of his young manhood, describing how his work as a bookshop manager and a staff writer for the Iraq Times brought him friendships with many of the country's leading intellectual and literary figures. He rounds off his story by remembering how the political and cultural upheavals that accompanied the founding of Israel, as well as broad hints sent back by the first arrivals in the new state, left him with a deep ambivalence as he bid a last farewell to a homeland that had become hostile to its native Jews.

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Once upon a time, Baghdad was home to a flourishing Jewish community. More than a third of the city's people were Jews, and Jewish customs and holidays helped set the pattern of Baghdad's cultural and commercial life. On the city's streets and in the bazaars, Jews, Muslims, and Christians—all native-born Iraqis—intermingled, speaking v...

Nissim Rejwan is currently a Research Fellow at the Harry S Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Over a distinguished, six-decade career as a historian and journalist, he has published a dozen books, including The Jews of Iraq: 3000 Years of History and Culture and Israel's Place...

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:268 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.55 inPublished:October 1, 2011Publisher:University Of Texas PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0292726880

ISBN - 13:9780292726888

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Table of Contents

Foreword. Jews as Native Iraqis: An Introduction by Joel BeininPreface. On Taking Stock1. In Old Baghdad2. The Rejwan Tribe3. Mother and the Placebo Effect4. Na`ima5. Early Initiations 6. Schooling7. The Great Crash and Us8. Hesqail Abul `Alwa Hires a Helper9. Living in Sexual Deprivation10. Idle Days11. Distorted Visions12. Rashid `Ali's Coup and its Aftermath13. Bookshop Days14. A Deepening Friendship15. The Start: Movies, Book Reviews16. Out in the Cold17. Disposing of a Library18. End of a Community19. Farewells and ReunionsAppendix A. The Jews of Iraq: A Brief Historical SketchAppendix B. A Selection of Book Reviews from the Iraq Times Index of Names of Persons

Editorial Reviews

Once upon a time, Baghdad was home to a flourishing Jewish community. More than a third of the city’s people were Jews, and Jewish customs and holidays helped set the pattern of Baghdad’s cultural and commercial life. On the city’s streets and in the bazaars, Jews, Muslims, and Christians—all native-born Iraqis—intermingled, speaking virtually the same colloquial Arabic and sharing a common sense of national identity. And then, almost overnight it seemed, the state of Israel was born, and lines were drawn between Jews and Arabs. Over the next couple of years, nearly the entire Jewish population of Baghdad fled their Iraqi homeland, never to return. In this beautifully written memoir, Nissim Rejwan recalls the lost Jewish community of Baghdad, in which he was a child and young man from the 1920s through 1951. He paints a minutely detailed picture of growing up in a barely middle-class family, dealing with a motley assortment of neighbors and landlords, struggling through the local schools, and finally discovering the pleasures of self-education and sexual awakening. Rejwan intertwines his personal story with the story of the cultural renaissance that was flowering in Baghdad during the years of his young manhood, describing how his work as a bookshop manager and a staff writer for the Iraq Times brought him friendships with many of the country’s leading intellectual and literary figures. He rounds off his story by remembering how the political and cultural upheavals that accompanied the founding of Israel, as well as broad hints sent back by the first arrivals in the new state, left him with a deep ambivalence as he bid a last farewell to a homeland that had become hostile to its native Jews.This book offers a rare look--detailed and vivid--into a culture that is no longer extant. An autobiography of place, it is a portrait of the making of a young intellectual and of Iraqi society in the thirties and forties. It tells the story of the end of the once rooted and vibrant Jewish community and serves as a wonderful resource for both the scholarly historian and the casual reader. - Nancy E. Berg, Washington University, author of Exile from Exile: Israeli Writers from Iraq