The writer skilfully interweaves their tragic fates – all three perish – with the political upheavals in modern Iraq, which plunge the Jews into a conflict of identity between tradition and modernity, Iraqi patriotism and Zionism. Towards the end of the story however, Nuria wins back not only her husband, but also the later-born fourth son, who was taken away from her by the family.

Finally, they all prepare to leave for Israel – the long exile of the "Babylonian" Jews now comes to an end with the return to the nation from which their fathers were once expelled.

"How numerous the memories"

Tsionit Fattal Kuperwasser, whose novel is regularly presented at the most important book fairs in Iraq, expressed to Iraqi journalists the hope that she would one day be allowed to visit Iraq, something her parents – who emigrated in 1951 and have since passed away – were never able to do.

Ancient buildings in Baghdad's Jewish quarter (photo: DW/M- Al-Saidy)
A historic break with the past: following the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948, Iraqʹs persecution of the Jews reached new levels. De-naturalisation legislation permitted them to emigrate on condition that they renounced their citizenship and all their possessions. Almost all of the some 120,000 Jews living in Iraq left the country – most of them heading for Israel

She is now receiving messages from Iraqi readers who regret the injustices done to the Jews in Iraq: It is time, they say, to acknowledge the Jewish contribution to the development of a modern and tolerant Iraq. One Iraqi poet even dedicated a poem to her and the heroine of her novel Nuria, in which the Iraqi laments: "How numerous the memories, that we have thrown away / How numerous, how many they are."

The Babylonian Jewry Heritage Centre, founded in 1973 in Or Yehuda near Tel Aviv, awarded its culture prize to Tsionit Fattal Kuperwasser in 2017. The prize was also awarded to the actor and television producer Yakar Semach, born in Baghdad in 1940.

His autobiographical novel "They Plant Flowers in Times of Need", also a literary debut, tells the story of his family and its involvement in the Zionist underground movement in Iraq. His second novel "Claire, You Are My Mezuzah", published in 2018, is also set in the Iraqi-Zionist milieu. It tells of the emigration of two young men from Baghdad to Palestine and describes their lives between kibbutz and city in the fledgling State of Israel.

Like Semach, an increasing number of older Iraqi-heritage Israelis are taking up the pen to process their own experiences or those of their ancestors in Iraqi into historical-fictional narratives. One of these writers is the 64-year-old engineer Ezra Zavani.Like Tsionit Fattal Kuperwasser he was also born in Israel and like her he attempts, in his novel "The Dream Embroiderer from Baghdad" through the figure of the self-confident young embroiderer Juliette, to produce a literary evocation of the lives of ordinary Baghdad Jews.

Muslim-Jewish interaction

But Zavani's story focusses much more on the interactions between Jews and Muslims in the city. His Jewish protagonists also move around in mixed neighbourhoods. But beyond the peaceful co-existence – for example, Juliette has quite a number of Muslim customers – Zavani's novel also sheds light on the many dark sides of the Muslim-Jewish relationship.

For example, here we read about the involuntary entanglement of a young Jewish man in a criminal Muslim female trafficking ring or about the prison experiences of young Iraqi Zionists, which are described without heroic pathos. In this case too, the story ends with the collective emigration of the novel's Jewish characters to Israel – and Ezra Zavani is already working on another book, a love story between a young Zionist activist and a Muslim in 1940s Baghdad.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry has also recognised the trend and set up the Facebook page "Israel in Iraqi dialect". As well as cultural similarities, it also deals with the issue of the trauma of the Iraqi Jews, for example in the documentary film "Shadow in Baghdad".

In the film, the Israeli journalist Linda Menuhin Abdel Aziz, who was born there in 1950, enlists the help of an anonymous Iraqi colleague in the futile search for any final clues to the whereabouts of her father, who disappeared without trace in Baghdad in 1972. The journalist responds here to interested Iraqi viewers in a video, in which she addresses them as "My Iraqi brothers and sisters".

Joseph Croitoru

© Qantara.de 2019

Translated from the German by Nina Coon

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