It’s always worthwhile listening to Matti Friedman, one of the foremost proponents of a new paradigm for understanding Israel as a ‘Mizrahi Nation’ – in terms of culture, religion and politics. The categories espoused by American Jews to understand Israel just do not fit, he says. Perhaps the most striking point he makes in this Tikva Fund podcast is that the project to destroy Israel is a long game, taking decades, if not centuries. Long ago, Jews from Muslim lands understood that Muslims will never reconcile to the Jewish state.
After the founding of the state, Israel absorbed a massive influx of Jews from Middle Eastern lands—Mizrahim—who came from a society and culture vastly different from that of their East European co-religionists.
These Jews are also part of the story of the Jewish state’s beginnings; today they represent over half of Israel’s Jewish population, profoundly shaping the culture, religion, and politics of 21st-century Israel.
In 2014, author and journalist Matti Friedman penned an essay in Mosaic titled, “Mizrahi Nation,” in which he tells the story of these Jews from Arab lands and explains how one simply cannot understand contemporary Israel without understanding that it has been profoundly shaped by the Mizrahim.
Israel, Friedman argues, is a much more Middle Eastern country than many Jews in the West imagine it to be.
In this podcast, Friedman joins Jonathan Silver to reflect on his essay. They discuss the long and remarkable history of Mizrahi Jews, how they have shaped the Jewish state, and how understanding their role in Israel’s past and present can give us a clearer picture of the nation’s future.
Here is rare footage of a Rosh Hashanaservice in the Meir Tweg synagogue in Baghdad in the 1990s. By the time this video was taken there were some thirty Jews still living in the Iraqi capital. The service would have been conducted by ordinary members of the community who could read Hebrew. The last of these, Emad Levy, left in 2010.
The Meir Tweg was built in 1942. Of some fifty synagogues, it is the last synagogue standing in Baghdad.
There are no services held there today. The synagogue is almost permanently shut, as there is no longer a Jewish community in Baghdad. Indeed there are just five self-identifying Jews.
The Jewish New Year 5780 begins on Sunday evening with blessings for a sweet New Year. Jews of Sephardi and Mizrahi origin will do more than eat apple and honey: they will recite blessings over a whole range of different foods.
Courtesy of Chabad, viaJIMENA, here is what you need for a typical Sephardi seder, together with the blessings recited for each food. Note that the foods can vary from table to table: for instance, French beans are often eaten instead of white beans. Spinach replaces beetroot (in Hebrew selek) because the Arabic word for it is Selk.
On both nights of Rosh Hashanah, a number of foods are eaten to symbolize our prayers and hopes for a sweet new year. Many of these foods were specifically chosen because their Hebrew names are related to other Hebrew words that convey our wishes for the coming year.
An accompanying prayer is recited, expressing our wishes inherent in these words and foods. Recite each prayer while holding the particular food in the right hand, immediately before it is eaten.
Before Rosh Hashanah, gather the following items:
Small light colored beans
Apple (cooked in sugar) and honey
Head of a ram (or a fish)
After chanting kiddush, washing, and breaking bread, the following foods are eaten:
Dates. Related to the word תם—to end.
Take a date and recite:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱלֹהינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הָעֵץBlessed are You, Lord our G‑d, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the tree.
Jews in Iraq contributed beyond their numbers to modernity in the 20th century. Together with the Christian minority, Jews filled a shortage of doctors. Later, quotas were introduced to limit their admittance to medical colleges.
As we heard from academic researcher Sarah Farhan at the Jews of Iraq conference: engagement with modernities on 16 – 18 September 2019, Jews comprised 40 percent of Iraqi doctors in the first half of the 20th century.
One of the most eminent was Dr Jack Aboudi Shabi(1908-1980), an Iraqi doctor specialized in nervous and mental diseases (neurology).
Dr Shabi practised in his first floor surgery in Baghdad. So identified with the treatment of mental illness was Dr Shabi that the expression ‘send him to the first floor’ became a common expression for ‘the man (or woman) is crazy’.
Born in Basra in a Jewish family, Dr Shabi was one of the first students to study at the Iraqi Royal Medical College (founded in 1927). His work has forever changed psychiatry in the country. He studied in Baghdad and London and subsequently with the famous Professor Hans Hoff of Vienna who lived in Baghdad during the Second World War. Dr. Shabi was for a time director of the Baghdad Mental Hospital and professor at the Royal College of Medicine. He left Baghdad in 1971 for London where he served as doctor in the Prisons Department.
His sister, Dr J Shabi, was also a doctor.
Portrait of Dr Jack Aboudi Shabi, father of modern Iraqi Psychiatry.
This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.
Point of No Return
Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries
One-stop blog on the Middle East's forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.