News / Middle East

    Iraqi Jews Seek to Prevent Return of Religious Artifacts to Iraq

    Iraqi Jews Try to Prevent Return of Artifacts to Iraqi
    X
    January 31, 2014 9:05 PM
    On Tuesday, February 4, part of a trove of Jewish artifacts seized by Saddam Hussein and uncovered during the Iraq war will go on display at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York. Iraqi Jews in America are trying to keep the collection from being sent back to Iraq after the exhibit, as the U.S. government has promised. VOA Religion Correspondent Jerome Socolovsky spoke to one of the leaders of the effort.
    Iraqi Jews Try to Prevent Return of Artifacts to Iraq
    Maurice Shohet shuffles through a box full of old black-and-white photos and reminisces about growing up in Baghdad, in one of the world’s oldest Jewish communities.

    The snapshots show family weddings and bar-mitzvahs, and there’s one of him and his brothers in t-shirts, and his mother in a bulky old rowboat on the serene waters of the Tigris River.

    The Shohet family fled Iraq in 1970 - crossing the border on foot in the dead of night - during the reign of Saddam Hussein’s Arab nationalist Baath Party. But Shohet is still proud of his fatherland.

    “I love Iraq because I was born and raised there. And the people are wonderful,” he said, wistfully. “We cannot equate what happened at the time by the Baath regime as reflecting everybody.”

    Shohet loaned his family album to accompany a National Archives exhibit of a trove of Jewish religious books and community documents found in Baghdad during the Iraq war.

    U.S. soldiers searching for weapons of mass destruction discovered them in the flooded basement of the Mukhabarat, Saddam Hussein’s intelligence service.

    The exhibit, “Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage,” opens next week at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, after being on display since November at the National Archives in Washington. It will run in New York until May 18.

    Iraq’s Jews once numbered about 150,000 and the archive offers a glimpse at the life of one of the most important Jewish communities of the Middle East, which dates back thousands of years, but was driven out in the 20th century amid Arab nationalism and the founding of Israel.

    In total, more than 2,700 books and documents were recovered from the Mukhabarat headquarters, including dozens of Torah fragments, a “tik,” or Torah scroll case, and scriptural books dating back to the 16th century. Many were printed in Baghdad, but some were brought from faraway places such as Venice.

    They were in such bad shape - soggy and stuck together, and covered with mold - that they had to be frozen immediately despite the war situation, said Doris Hamburg, who directed the preservation effort.

    “They were able, believe it or not, to find a freezer truck in these very difficult circumstances in Baghdad,” she said.

    According to the U.S.-Iraqi agreement to bring the items to the United States for restoration, they are scheduled to be shipped back to Iraq after the process is completed this year. The U.S. State Department says it has trained Iraqi archivists to make sure the collection is protected in Baghdad.

    Iraqi Jews living in the U.S., though, backed by major Jewish organizations, say the U.S. government had no right to promise to return the archive.

    Iraq's ambassador offered in an interview with the Jewish Daily Forward to delay the return of the artifacts.

    For Maurice Shohet, that is not enough. He argued that Iraqi-Jewish expatriates were never consulted about the agreement, and maintains the items still belong to them.

    “Because they were confiscated from us to begin with,” he said. “So it has to be returned to the community, since there is no community left in Iraq, only five people who are afraid even to meet each other.”

    • A Babylonian Talmud before restoration. This volume of the Talmud discusses laws and topics relating to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. (U.S. National Archives)
    • A restored Babylonian Talmud. This volume of the Talmud discusses laws and topics relating to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. (U.S. National Archives)
    • IJA conservator Katherine Kelly works on an artifact. (U.S. National Archives)
    • This colorfully illustrated French and Hebrew Haggadah was published in Vienna and is pictured before restoration. (U.S. National Archives)
    • This colorfully illustrated French and Hebrew Haggadah was published in Vienna and is pictured after restoration. (U.S. National Archives)
    • Iraqi Jewish Archive material being sorted. (U.S. National Archives)
    • Materials drying in Iraq. (U.S. National Archives)
    • Materials are piled up before treatment and restoration. (U.S. National Archives)
    • A Torah case. (U.S. National Archives)
    • A close up of the detail on a Torah case. (U.S. National Archives)

    You May Like

    In Britain, The Sun Still Doesn’t Shine

    Invoking Spitfires and Merlin, Leave voters insist country can be great again, following surprising 'Brexit' vote last week

    Double Wave of Suicide Bombings Puts Lebanon, Refugees on Edge

    Following suicide bombings in Christian town of Al-Qaa, on Lebanon's northeast border with Syria, fears of further bombings have risen

    US Senators Warned on Zika After Failing to Pass Funding

    Zika threats and challenges, as well as issues of contraception and vaccines, spelled out as lawmakers point fingers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roari
    X
    June 28, 2016 10:33 AM
    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora