Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage
Stashed in the basement of the Iraqi Intelligence Headquarters were thousands of ancient Jewish documents. Why Saddam's Intelligence officers were collecting ancient artifacts of a people who had long fled Iraq remains a mystery. But in the days after the fall of Baghdad to U.S. forces, they were discovered there.
A tip led a team to the building. They discovered a flooded basement and thousands of pages of documents, ranging from the 16th century to the 20th century, floating in the water. No one is even sure how the basement flooded. Possibly a bomb burst open a water main. Possibly officers turn on all the faucets on their way out the door.
In an unusual move, a team from the National Archives was sent over to help rescue the documents which are now on display at The Breman Museum in Atlanta. This past Sunday, members of the Institute got a V.I.P. tour of the exhibition which is running through April 29th, 2018.
The curator of the exhibition was on hand - and if I recall right, his name was Gabe - to give us a very detailed, enthusiastic tour of the pieces on display. Iraqi (Babylonian) Jewish community is essential to modern Jewish culture. Most Talmudic interpretations have roots there and a page of an ancient Talmud was on display.
After the guided tour, there was a presentation by Anna Fridley, a member of the conservation team at the national archives. She has Atlanta roots and many in the audience were familiar with her family.
She did an excellent job of describing how the documents were saved. She didn't get too technical (though she answered my technical question during the Q & A) and it was easy for the lay people in the audience to grasp how a conservation team works.
In the case of these 3000 plus documents, mold was a major issued due to the water exposure in the basement of that Intelligence Building. She went through the steps they took to salvage the pages and photographs. Later everything was digitalized and is now available online. When Jews left Iraq, they left with nothing. These documents and photos are now being used to reconstruct family ties and history by the Jewish community after it was transplanted.
I was surprised to learn that at the start of the 20th century, 1 in every 4 residents of Baghdad was Jewish. During the 1950's, almost 2/3rds opted to be airlifted out due to persecution. You can now probably count the number of Jews left in Iraq on your fingers. There are rumours of a Jew here, one there, but for the most part, the Jewish presence in Iraq is now a thing of history.
There was Middle East food for the guests. Dolce Catering served up a delightful sampling the regional cuisine and I would recommend them for any event. Also on hand were a trio of musicians, led by James Schneider, to keep the regional vibe going. You can check a clip of them out in my last post.
This is a rare chance to glimpse what is not only a piece of Jewish history but of world history. Stop by The Breman Museum today and tour the exhibit. On the rating scale, it gets 5/5. You can also check them out online HERE where the collection is posted for anyone to see. Always more fun in person though.