Archive wedding photo causes controversy

 Controversy surrounds a wedding photo, taken in Israel, and exhibited as part of the Iraqi-Jewish Archive exhibition, now on at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in California. Was the photo included by mistake, or was it given to a relative who lived in Baghdad, ending up in the basement of Saddam Hussein’s secret police headquarters, along with thousands of books documents and artefacts seized from the Jewish community? Shlomi Eldar explains in Al Monitor:


Members of the Shohet family dispute whether this photo travelled from Israel to Baghdad

 Once the artifacts were preserved, the decision
was made to exhibit them. When I went to see the exhibition, the photo
of the young couple at their wedding ceremony, surrounded by their
excited family, immediately caught my eye.

This is how I described the photo: “A photo of a bride and groom at
their wedding ceremony. The rabbi is holding the groom’s hand, and the
bride is clutching a bouquet of white flowers. The excited guests,
apparently family, can be seen behind them looking up. My parents have a
picture exactly like this … Do any of the readers recognize the people
in the photograph above?”

“It’s a picture of my parents,” Dor told Al-Monitor, “but its
provenance might disappoint you. It wasn’t taken in Iraq. It was shot in
Ramat Gan [Israel], at the Kehilat Yesharim synagogue in August 1959,
eight years after my parents immigrated to Israel.”

Yair’s father, Moshe Dor (Shohet), now 87, arrived in Israel from
Iraq as part of Operation Ezra and
Nehemiah, an Israeli-organized airlift that brought many members of the
Iraqi Jewish community to Israel during 1950-52. He enlisted in the army
and served in the Communication Corps, first as a soldier and then as a
civilian contractor, until he retired at age 65. His wife, Rina, nee
Aziz, had immigrated to Israel before him. They met in Israel and
settled in Ramat Gan, which absorbed more Iraqi immigrants
than any other city in the country. Rina worked for years as the
secretary of Na’amat, the women’s organization affiliated with the
Histadrut, until she retired. The couple had two children. Yair, the
eldest, was a career soldier in the Israel Defense Forces who retired
from the army with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

“My father was the first member of my family’s second generation
[those born in Israel] to get married,” Dor told Al-Monitor. “One of my
grandmother’s sisters flew to Istanbul to meet my father’s uncle, who
stayed in Iraq after almost all of the community had immigrated to
Israel, in 1951. She brought him the photo from his nephew’s, my
father’s, wedding. That uncle took the photo back to Baghdad with him.
The picture must have made its way to Saddam’s cellars after the Iraqis
seized all Jewish property. That is our theory.”

Dor said that neither he nor his family knows from which family
member in Iraq the photo was taken. “This picture hangs in my parents’
house, but also in my house and in my sister’s house too. It is the icon
on my cell phone, when my parents call. Of course, we were surprised to
see what happened to it. It’s a strange story, ” he said. “We knew that
the Iraqis seized all sorts of documents [belonging to Jews], but no
one would ever have expected to find it among those documents. It has
absolutely no value in terms of intelligence. Its only value is
sentimental.”

The government of Iraq and the National Archives are still engaged in a heated debate over
who actually owns the Jewish archive. The Iraqi government insists,
through its ambassador in Washington, that the archive must be returned
to Iraq. The Iraqis claim that an archive telling the story of a
community that lived in Iraq for centuries should be in the land of the
Tigris and Euphrates and displayed at the Iraqi Archives for the
public’s benefit. There are, however, no Jews left
in Iraq. The last members of the community to leave were Yair Dor’s
relatives. One uncle, Elias, immigrated to England in the early 1970s. A
second uncle arrived in Israel in 2000.

Maurice Shohet, son of Elias Shohet, now serves as president of the World Organization of Jews from Iraq,
based in New York. Obviously, the Iraqi Jewish organization is opposed
to returning the archive to Baghdad. In addition, Maurice Shohet
contends that the wedding photo of Dor’s parents was exhibited by
mistake. He claims it was part of a photo album of his childhood in
Iraq, which he donated to the National Archives.

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