The walls of Baghdad’s last synagogue, Meir Tweg, are crumbling, reports Salam Faraj; all but 10 percent of Syria and Iraq’s 300 heritage sites are still standing. However, there is a small hope that the Sasson synagogue in Mosul will be restored, and renovation work has been carried out on the shrine of Nahum in Kurdistan. AFP report in Times of Israel:
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AFP) — In a busy district of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, there is little to distinguish the faded brick building, except for a Hebrew inscription above the entrance.
Iraq’s Jewish community was once one of the largest in the Middle East, but its members have dwindled to a handful, outside of the autonomous Kurdistan region.
“Our heritage is in a pitiful condition” and authorities take no notice, said a member of the congregation who requested anonymity, fearing reprisals.
Their precious history, including the synagogue, is threatened in a country torn apart by decades of war, corruption and armed groups.
While historical treasures ruined by jihadists are being restored in Iraq, rare international efforts at saving the Jewish heritage have not been enough.
Baghdad’s Meir Tweig Synagogue, built in 1942, seems to have been frozen in time.
Behind its padlocked doors, the benches are covered in white cloth to shield them from the sun. The walls of the sky-blue two-story columned interior are crumbling.
The steps leading to a wooden cabinet holding the sacred Torah scrolls are coming apart.
Flanked by marble plaques engraved with seven-branched candelabra and psalms, the cabinet shelters the scrolls written in hand calligraphy on gazelle leather.
“We used to pray here,” the member said. “We celebrated our festivals, and in summer we studied religious courses in Hebrew.”
One synagogue in Iraq’s south has been illegally occupied and turned into a warehouse, the woman added.
“Save this heritage,” she said, asking for the United Nations’s help.
Jewish roots in Iraq go back about 2,600 years, on the land where the patriarch Abraham was born and where the Babylonian Talmud was written.
More than 2,500 years later, in Ottoman-ruled Baghdad, Jews made up 40 percent of the city’s inhabitants.
By the time of Israel’s creation in 1948, they numbered 150,000, but three years later, amid persecution by Iraqi authorities that swelled in the wake of the establishment of Israel, 96% of the community had left.
A report published in 2020 listed Jewish heritage sites in Iraq and Syria, some dating back to the first millennium BC. The study identified 118 synagogues, 48 schools, nine sanctuaries and three cemeteries among the Iraqi Jewish heritage sites. Most are now gone.
“In Iraq, only 30 of the 297 documented sites are confirmed to still exist,” according to the report published by the London-based Foundation for Jewish Heritage and ASOR, the non-profit American Society of Overseas Research.
“Of these 30 sites, 21 are in poor or very bad condition,” it added.
The few remaining Jews in Iraq “worked very hard to protect and preserve their heritage, but the scale of the work was beyond their abilities,” said Darren Ashby, who worked on the study.
“Over time, much of this heritage was lost to seizure, sale or slow decay and collapse,” said Ashby, from the University of Pennsylvania’s Iraq Heritage Stabilization Program.