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The Last Jews in Baghdad: Remembering a Lost Homeland

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The Last Jews in Baghdad: Remembering a Lost Homeland
By Nissim Rejwan. Foreword by Joel Beinin. (University of Texas Press, Austin: 2004. Pg. 272. 55 Figures and 7 Tables.) ISBN: 0-292-70293-0.

Reviewed by Anna Dogole - December 3, 2004

The Last Jews in Baghdad: Remembering a Lost Homeland is the compelling autobiography of Nissim Rejwan's life in Baghdad. In telling his story, Rejwan also tells the story of the long and varied association that Jews have had with the city of Baghdad and the entire Tigris-Euphrates Valley region. Chronicling the period for the 1920's to the 1950's when most of Baghdad's Jews were forced to flee to Israel, this book shows the transition from a flourishing Jewish enclave which comprised almost a third of Baghdad's population in 1908 down to an estimated four Jews at the end of the Second Gulf War.

In exploring the sojourn of Jews in Baghdad, Rejwan also details the culture and lives of Jews throughout Iraq, and throughout time. The Last Jews of Baghdad is however, more an autobiography than a history book. While Rejwan's narrative is intertwined with historical facts and interesting cultural tidbits, it is first and foremost a story of his life. As such he presents the reader with intimated details of his life - including his sex life, as well as his feelings about being Jewish, the tumult in the Arab world after the establishment of the State of Israel, and how like the Jews in Germany prior to World War II considered themselves to be Germans - not German Jews, the Jews of Baghdad considered themselves to be first and foremost - Iraqis.

The Last Jews of Baghdad is a fascinating book. It provides a rare glimpse into the once flourishing society that has been all but forgotten in the smoke of the Arab - Israeli conflict, and ignored in the 'right of return' issues currently popular on the political scene. This book is also intriguing in that it presents a vivid picture of one man's coming-of-age in a turbulent period that would forever change his life, and those of his community.

This book is enhanced by the inclusion of a fascinating foreword by Joel Beinin that provides a concise overview of the history of Jews in Iraqi - from the Ottoman period through the 1960's. The foreword is complimented by a historical sketch, by Rejwan, of Jewish history in Iraq from Biblical times to the 1940's. The foreword includes endnotes that serve as an excellent starting point for anyone wishing to delve further into this compelling subject. The Last Jews of Baghdad will be of interest to students of both Jewish and Middle Eastern history, as well as anyone interested in reading a fascinating account of one man's life.

Related Reviews:

Outsider in the Promised Land & Israel's Years of Bogus Grandeur, by Nissim Rejwan.
Told via Rejwan's articles, essays, letters, and diary entries, these books chronicle the author's life, and Israel's development, from 1951 through to the first Intifada.

Israel: Challenges to Identity, Democracy and the State, By Clive Jones and Emma C. Murphy.
This book offers a brief overview of the state of Israeli politics and social cohesiveness, or lack thereof.

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