In New Babylonians, Orit Bashkin explores the fascinating world of Jews in twentieth century Iraq. Beginning with an examination of that world prior to the creation of the State of Israel, Bashkin demonstrates how the Jews of Iraq were unified with a mixture of Iraqi identity and Arab Jewishness that made them not so very different from their Moslem and Christian compatriots. As Bashkin points out, Iraqi Jewish writers came to consider Arab-Islamic history and Arabic literature their own. Indeed, the Jews were caught up in the passions of nationalism and patriotism to such an extent that they permitted a certain degree of secularism to creep into their society. They came to believe in a separation of church and state where “Religion is a matter for God and the homeland is for the community” and they constructed a national narrative where they saw themselves as far better off than their less fortunate European counterparts. This peaceful world was shattered as nationalism, Fascism, and anti-Semitism came to grip the nation during World War II — especially during the anti-Jewish riots that constituted the Farhud (pogrom) of 1941. Hard as the Jews tried, they were unable to recover that which was lost. Many felt obliged to turn to communism and a very small number embraced Zionism. With the creation of the State of Israel, the Jewish population was driven from Iraq. Yet even then, Bashkin notes, radical Iraqi Jews strove to keep Arab Jewish culture alive and a cultural conversation between Arabs and Jews persisted long after the removal of Jews from Iraq.
New Babylonians: A History of Jews in Modern Iraq
Randall Belinfante has served as the Librarian of the American Sephardi Federation for more than 13 years. He has taken a tiny collection of 200 books and built an assemblage of over 10,000 items. Mr. Belinfante holds degrees in various aspects of Jewish studies, and during his tenure at ASF, he has investigated a variety of topics, presenting papers on such diverse topics as the Mizrahi Jews driven from their homes in Islamic countries and the crypto-Jewish Mashhadis of Iran. He has also written many book reviews on books of Sephardi / Mizrahi interest.
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