Israeli Babylonians: The Birth of Iraqi’ Israeli Identity

April 29, 2019 @ 6:30 pm America/Phoenix Timezone
Tucson Jewish Community Center
3800 E River Rd
John Winchester
Israeli Babylonians: The Birth of Iraqi' Israeli Identity @ Tucson Jewish Community Center

During the 1950s, 123,000 Iraqi Jews arrived to Israeli where they lived under very harsh conditions. These Iraqi Jews spoke Arabic in the transit camps where they were settled, and Iraqi intellectuals wrote in that language. Their shared Iraqi background united them as they organized support groups to help one another. Iraqi Jews missed Iraq and longed to return to it, typically referring to their homeland as the “Babylon.” This biblical name accentuated the ancient nature of this Jewish community, whose first members had come to Mesopotamia after the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem, and whose community was responsible for assembling one of the most formidable works of Jewish law, the Babylonian Talmud. At the same time, the name “Babylon” distanced Jews from the negative connotations of “Iraq,” an enemy Arab state.

They also shared a history and destiny with their fellow Israeli citizens. As their opportunities for employment increased, they sought more contracts with the state. Their knowledge of Arabic could be used in service of the state, helping it protect its regional and geo-strategic interests. Iraqi Jews, nonetheless, were far from satisfied with their place in Israeli society. They fought discrimination and wrote about their marginalization in a state that aimed to be secular, socialist, and Jewish. They demanded their rights as Jewish citizens in a Jewish state, rights that they were denied. This process produced individuals who loved Arab and Iraqi food, loved Iraqi culture and music, but operated exclusively within Israeli-Jewish parameters.

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