The Last Jews in Bagh­dad: Remem­ber­ing a Lost Homeland

Nis­sim Rejwan

  • Review
By – July 9, 2012

In this com­ing-of-age mem­oir, his­to­ri­an and jour­nal­ist Nis­sim Rejwan pro­vides an insider’s view of Iraqi-Jew­ish life dur­ing the three decades before the mass emi­gra­tion of Iraqi Jew­ry in the ear­ly 1950s. Draw­ing on mem­o­ry and arti­cles he wrote for the Iraqi, Amer­i­can and Israeli press, Rejwan inter­weaves his own intel­lec­tu­al and sex­u­al awak­en­ing with the sto­ry of the brief cul­tur­al renais­sance that took place in Iraq dur­ing the post-World War II era. He writes of life as a low­er mid­dle class Jew in Bagh­dad, the changes in the Bagh­dad Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty as West­ern-edu­cat­ed mid­dle class Jews began to chal­lenge rab­binic author­i­ty for lead­er­ship, and the impact of Ger­man pro­pa­gan­da on the coun­try. Edu­cat­ed in local Iraqi schools, Rejwan also read wide­ly in West­ern lit­er­a­ture and social sci­ences, even­tu­al­ly land­ing a job as a review­er for the Eng­lish-lan­guage Iraq Times and work­ing in a book­shop where he met Mus­lim and Chris­t­ian Iraqi intel­lec­tu­al and lit­er­ary fig­ures. With its focus on liv­ing in Bagh­dad rather than leav­ing the coun­try, Rejwan’s mem­oirs pro­vide a rare view of Jew­ish life in mod­ern Iraq.

Ree­va Spec­tor Simon is Pro­fes­sor of His­to­ry at Yeshi­va Uni­ver­si­ty. She is co-edi­tor and con­trib­u­tor to The Jews of the Mid­dle East and North Africa in Mod­ern Times (Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2003).

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