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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Farewell To Dejla: Stories of Iraqi Jews

Farewell to Dejla Tova Murad Sadka,Academy Chicago Publishers 2008
Farewell to Dejla is a nifty little book of several short stories that portray the experience of Iraqi Jews. The settings happen in Iraq, Israel and America. In Iraq, contrary to what people might believe the Jews were rather well to do and rather well adjusted. They were times when police men or authorities would give the Jews a hard time, like in the story "Status Quo", when a police inspector is cracking down on all the Kosher butchers. The Rabbi takes care of it by sending a nice gift to the chief of police. The over zealous inspector get's transferred to another area. Things were not always hunky dory as the story "Shoula and the Muslim Man" portrays. Shoula and Iraqi Jewish woman above thirty years of age is on the verge of spinsterhood. She cannot sit by her window without some stalker seeing her. Her mother solves the problem in a rather light hearted way that will leave the reader chuckling. In the story of "Their First Pogrom" we learn that for the most part Muslims and Jews got on rather well, it was only regional politics that finally loused things up. In this story an aged woman defends her property from some potential looter. At the end her family rebukes her for risking her life. The young looter on the other hand only makes off with some small item. The wife rebukes him for not having take more. But what could he say this was his first pogrom. He tells her he will do better next time. In the actual story "Farewell to Dejla" a Jewish woman hires a Muslim man to take her on the tour of the river. It will be her last time as she is soon going off to Israel. The Muslim man laments the loss of the Jews. He does not charge her the fair. The Jews had been in Iraq ever since the Babylonian exile which was thousands of years ago. They were an integrated part of the country an harbored no notion of leaving for the most part. They were non-zionistic. Even the most religious chose to stay. Even in between Arabs and Jews in Israel/Palestine impacted all the surrounding countries and Jews were viewed as enemies of the state. First they were frozen out of their jobs and then their assets were frozen. Under such conditions is no one able to live. Eventually those that chose to leave those wretched conditions were given laisez passsers and were made to give up their citizenship. They left the country with literally the clothing on their back.
In the story "Melting Pot" were learn that the Jews were very disillusioned with life in Israel. The Jews from Baghdad were under the impression that Israel would compensate them for everything they lost and would be given good housing. They were first put in to tents and then tin shacks and only much later did they get apartments. The stories show that the different cultural norms between the Ashkenazi Jews and Iraqi Jews lead to various clashes. On Iraq woman feels insulted by having been asked to help clean up an area of the apartment. A store owner is charged more for renting a piece of land than and Ashkenazi renter is. The Israeli dressed in shorts, sandals and over all general beachware. The Iraqi were more into modesty, conservative behavior and formal dress. The ways of old Iraq and the new ways of Israel did not always mesh. The final section which consists of two stories "Uprooted" and Millionaire's Aid" discuss the life of Iraqi Jews in America. For one young Eli in "Uprooted" coming over to America so his dad can open a pharmaceutical business is tough. He did not want to leave Israel. At first he has a hard time making friends but his grandmother who visits from Israel buys him a new ball and helps devise a strategy to win new friend. In the second story Robert becomes an overnight millionaire. Balancing between family and work is challenging especially when planning an engagement party. You have to choose who to invite and people do get offended if they are left out. Lance is the best planner. But something rather good happens to him at the end.

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Baba-Sali
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One blond hair blue eyed Calfornian who totally digs the Middle East.
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