Having a party, Iraqi-style

According to Yoav Ze’ evi of Haaretz, Iraqi Jews in Israel are still enjoying their parties, or haflot. But for how much longer?(with thanks:Lily)

“A middle-aged man gets up to dance, passes by the singer and nonchalantly sticks a NIS 100 bill on her forehead. She continues as if nothing has happened, performing another song or two, and then everyone applauds. A tall thin man gets up to sing in her place, wearing black pants and a red shirt. And so it goes, on and on, hour after hour. A hafla (party, celebration) the way a hafla ought to be. But there’s a poignant feel to it all. Because everything is happy here. Only the people are sad.

“David trudges from one table to another, emptying ashtrays, bringing this one a can of orange soda and that one a glass of whiskey. For over 20 years now, he hasn’t known any other kind of weekend. He’s at Havana, always. “It’s hard work,” he’ll tell me later, running a pudgy finger across his thin mustache. “I’m tired of it. Believe me.”

“It was his idea, to open a club like this, for Iraqi haflot. Like back in Baghdad where he was born and lived until age 21. When he opened Havana, shortly after the euphoria of the Six-Day War, the place became a big hit. People came from all over the country and crammed the aisles. The crowd then was eager and lively, still umbilically connected to its cultural origins between the Tigris and the Euphrates.

“It’s in my blood,” David says now. “From back in Iraq, when we would sit at big haflot night after night until the wee hours. Now I’m tired. The audience is disappearing, the people are old. There’s nothing we can do about it: Life doesn’t get any easier with the years.”

“Shlomi sits down beside me, camera on his knees. For almost a year, he has been coming here nearly every week, taking pictures, observing, getting excited, planning to mount an original exhibition: the swan song of the Iraqi aristocracy.

“Something drew me here,” he tells me. “Something called me to come, to feel it from the inside. The combination of the music, the faces, the disappearing heritage of our parents’ generation.”

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