By The Rivers of Babylon
Stories that stretch from Israel all the way to Iraq
A century ago, close to one-third of Baghdad’s population was Jewish. As of 2019, just five Jews remained in the city. In today’s episode, we explore the story of the Jews of Iraq, all the way from Nahum the prophet to a Jerusalemite grandma who became the unlikely champion of kidnapped Yazidi girls.
Jews first arrived in what is today Iraq in the 6th century BC, after the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar sacked Solomon’s Temple. It was from there that Ezra and Nehemiah led returning exiles back to Jerusalem. It was there that the Babylonian Talmud was debated, compiled and codified. And it was there, in 1941, that the Farhud – a violent pogrom – left hundreds of Baghdad’s Jews dead and thousands injured.
While there were many different phases in this 2600-year-long history, Jews knew numerous prosperous periods in the ‘land between the two rivers.’ There were Jewish politicians, jurists, doctors, businessmen. There was even a Jewish Miss Baghdad.
Today that community is all but gone.
Mishy Harman talks to Edwin Shuker, whose family fled Baghdad in 1971, about his hopes for a new Golden Age for Iraqi Jews. You can learn more about Edwin’s story in the wonderful documentary film ‘Remember Baghdad.’
Producer Joel Shupack brings us a story of ISIS, of daring escapes, of volunteerism and of the endless limits of the human spirit. Oddly enough, it is also a story of the legacy of the Holocaust. While generations of Israeli high-school students have visited concentration camps and promised – in sincere voices – “never again,” a Jewish grandma from Jerusalem named Lisa Miara made “never again” the guiding principle of her life. It is a tale of one fearless woman who was compelled – because of what happened to her own people less than eighty years ago – to get up and act.
Listen to the episode, which originally aired in November 2019:
About Israel Story: Israel Story is the award-winning podcast that tells extraordinary tales about ordinary Israelis. Often called “the Israeli ‘This American Life,’” we bring you quirky, unpredictable, interesting and moving stories about a place we all think we know a lot about, but really don’t. Produced in partnership with The Times of Israel.
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