From Baghdad to Bombay: A Jewish Story. By Sam Shamoon.


Uploaded by UniversityOfRI on 07.10.2009

Transcript:
Thank you very much Amy, and thank you all for coming. A little bit about myself and
URI, myself and my family has a long association and a very positive association with URI.
I myself went to graduate school here, many many years ago, I went to the community planning
school at URI, graduated 1970. My wife Linda Shamoon is a professor here of Writing and
Rhetoric, so if any of you are taking a writing course you may have encountered her or some
of the work that she's done in the Writing program. So we've been here a long time, so
I have a soft spot for URI. I think it's a great place, and I thank Amy and others who
invited me to come and speak here because it's a pleasure for me always to come back
to URI. I myself, I'll talk to you about my family, and my talk is called By the Rivers
of Babylon, because I'm going to be talking about the Jews of Babylonia, which eventually
was a place that became Baghdad, Iraq. And when you think of Baghdad today you just think
of the war and Saddam Hussein and all this stuff that's going on, and some place that
you would never ever want to go visit. And I wouldn't recommend it at this time, but
at one time there was a very large Jewish population there, and the population at one
point was over 40% in the city of Baghdad, I'll be talking about that in a little more
detail. And they were there for 26 centuries, and there was a cataclysmic event in 1941
that decimated the community. So that's essentially a summary of what I'll be talking about. So
it's about a time in history, 26 centuries of Jews living in this Babylonia, or sometimes
called Mesopotamia, the land between the two rivers. Mesopotamia means "between the two
rivers," the Tigris and the Euphrates, which we call today Baghdad. This area is one of the
oldest settlements of Jews in the world, with a great history of learning and scholarship. It starts
with the biblical Abraham, considered to be the father of Jewish people, was born in Ur, which
is in southern Iraq and I have map to show you, around the year 2000 BCE. The community
of Iraqi Jews traces its history to the 6th century BCE when the Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar
destroyed the first Israelite Temple in Jerusalem, conquered Judea and forcibly moved most of
the Israelite of the Judean population into Babylonia. Here's a map that shows, it's not
a great map, that shows the Tigris and the Euphrates, and here's a place, a town called
Uruq, where probably the name Iraq eventually came from, and Ur here is where the biblical
Abraham came from before he was sent by God to Israel. And here's Baghdad, and Babylon
is right there. So it's not exactly Baghdad itself, but this whole region was known as
Babylonia and this is a map of some of the ancient cities of that place. This map shows
the captivity of Judah in the year 586 BCE that when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Judea and
forcibly made them travel, and they think that this might have been the route all the
way through the Euphrates river and into Babylon, in that year. Here's some pictures of what
they might have seen, and artist's depiction of what they think ancient Babylonia looked
like. This is the Ishtar Gates where supposedly the captive were forcibly marched through
these gates, and this is the Tigris, and actually the city of Babylon was supposedly a beautiful
city full of pine groves and date trees and it was a wonderful place, great climate, et cetera.
So it was a wonderful place but they were strangers in a strange land. Here's another
picture of what they might have seen. The palace of Nebuchadnezzar and Babylonia around
that period. Here's- these two slides are old pictures of Babylon as it looks today.
They're ruins there in that particular part of the world, and my mother actually visited
and told me about it, but these are pictures that were taken in the early 1900s, about
1917, 1918, these are British soldiers, and you can seen the ruins. Babylon was known
for Hammurabi and coming up with Hammurabi's Code, code of ethics, and they were also had
these Gods that were a combination of human and animal. The Biblical Prophets, there were several
Biblical Prophets, including Ezekiel, who lived and died in Babylonia. And here we see
the tomb of Ezekiel, and it had become a shrine where many Jews would visit on festival days.
Early Babylonian Jews, there were priests and scribes, they had written most of the
Hebrew Bible in scrolls and they brought those scrolls with them to Babylonia and in Babylonia
they assembled what became our Bible, the Five Books of Moses, the Torah, were assembled
essentially in Babylonia then brought back to Jerusalem by other prophets including Ezra,
Ezra the scribe. Now this period of captivity, forced captivity, only lasted 70 years because
in the year of 516 BCE the Persian king, Cyrus, conquered Babylonia and destroyed, kicked
out the Nebuchadnezzar people and his sons and established the Persian empire and he
allowed the Jews to return to Judea. We know however that most of them chose not to go,
this time they stayed out of choice, they were not forced to remain. Those who did go
back went back and created the second commonwealth, the second Temple, and included Ezra the scribe
who brought the Torah and established the Temple in Jerusalem, re-established it again.
But I'm going to talk about the people who remained behind because they found was such
a beautiful climate, great arable land where they were farming and could grow dates and
all kinds of other fruit and crops in that area, so it was a very, very nice place. It
was considered to be at one time the site of the Garden of Eden, probably, we don't
know. But it was a really fertile area between the two rivers which often flooded and created
all this lush vegetation. Now Babylonia was ruled by successive dynasties that followed
the fall of the Babylonian rulers. The most prominent overlords began when the- during
the Islamic-Arab period. Islamic period started in the year 634 and it lasted for 624 years
and this is when the different Arab rulers, like the Sassanids and Abbasid and those folks,
were rulers in Babylonia. There was also Mongolian period, which lasted only 276 years. Going
from 1258 to 1534, and the Ottoman period which was the most recent and lasted 384 years
from 1534 to 1918. The Ottoman empire was actually the Turkish empire and they ruled
the entire middle east for all this period of time, and the year 1918 was the end of
World War I when the British and Allies defeated the Germans, and the Turks who were allied
with the Germans, and took over this area. So the British came in and they created the
British Mandate, but they also created what we now know as Modern Iraq. And that area
that we know as Iraq finally comes into being only after 1918 with the British and the Iraqi
government, which at one time was ruled by kings. Now I will concentrate primarily on
this last period, during the British period, beginning with the end of World War I to the
present time. And here I have a photograph of Baghdad with the Tigris river, was probably
taken around 1917 or 1920, that time period. It's a pretty wide river, the Tigris river.
Here we see the British Army entering Baghdad in 1917 at the end of World War I which marked
the end of the Ottoman empire and the beginning of the British Mandate. And over here you
can see, I don't know if it's very clear, all these lights on here, but this is the
British Army walking in and here's the population watching them. The first king of Iraq was
this exotic fellow named King Faisal, was a handsome fellow, and he liked exotic pets,
like this tiger over here, and this is his coronation. He was crowned in 1921. He was
from the Hashemite family from Saudi Arabia, he was not indigenous to Iraq or Baghdad.
During World War I the British got the help of the Hemite princes, the Arabian peninsula,
and that's where you have some variate of the story that came in, where these folks
helped the British and the attitude of World War I, and as a reward for all their help,
the British promised them, they said, you help us, after we take over we'll divide the
Ottoman empire and give you kingdoms, so they created this kingdom of Iraq and installed
King Faisal as the first king. He was, again, I said not from this region. He felt somewhat
alienated and he was actually reluctant to become king in this country that has a warring
group, there was a warring group of the Sunnis and Shiites, and a very sizable Jewish population.
You can see here, during his coronation, all these British Army officers behind him, and
that sort of tells everything that he was really sort of a puppet to the British empire,
the British Mandate, and the time, and had not any real authority, although he was somewhat
of a benign king and he tried to do good things, but there he was. And this coronation took
place at 6 in the morning, partly because they didn't want to attract too many crowds
because it might not be too popular a move, and secondly because of the heat of Baghdad
is so oppressive that by noon time it's probably 120 degrees in the shade. I'll give you some
demographics. During this period, and prior to 1941 because that was a key year, there
were a 120,000 Jews in Iraq, mostly in Baghdad and Bustrah. 40% of the city of Baghdad was
Jewish, the other 60% was split between Sunnis and Shiites, and a very tiny Christian-Armenian
population. Shops were closed on the Jewish Sabbath. In 1949 there were 20 Jewish schools
with 10,400 peoples. From 1941 to 1951 most of the Jews left, the majority going to Israel
and some going to India, like my family, and some went to the west. Through the 70s and
80s the exodus continued, and today there's probably no more, just a handful, probably
at this time not a single Jew left in Baghdad, that I know of. A few years ago there may
have been five or six that were undocumented. Before I get into what happened in 1941 I'll
give you a brief flavor of Jewish life in it's hay-day. Here in this picture, which
is dated from 1910, we can see these are Iraqi-Jewish Rabbis that we called Hakhamim, the word for
Rabbi in Iraq in Baghdad Jewish custom was Hakham, which is a Hebrew word, which means
a sage or wise old man. So these are Hakhamim and these two guys were from Israel, they're
visiting the Baghdad Rabbis. I put this up only to show you the kind of dress they wore,
this was common. These guys wore long robes and turbans all the time, and just because
they were rabbis, all the men pretty much dressed this way. Here's a picture of the
chief rabbi of Baghdad, his name was Hakham Ezra Dangoor. There he is with his wife, and
daughters, and grandson. And here he is in the Synagogue, and this is another picture
of the Synagogue. The Synagogue, the great Synagogue of Baghdad, was an open air variety,
the whole thing did not have a single roof. The center podium, which we called a bima but
they called teba, is a center platform, had a roof. And this is where the men sat along
here, and on the outside they put chairs as well on the lower floor and the women would
sit in the balcony above. This is where the arc was where they kept the Torah scrolls,
back there. It was a big cavernous opening. And there's a Hakham, the rabbi standing right
there. Again, to give you a flavor of what it was like during this period. And also I
want to know you typical attire for men and women of this period in the early, in the
19th century most of them wore traditional clothes, like a man would wear this kind of
a robe, a turban, a Turkish fez, and the women, you know, looked like a Victorian dowager
almost, dressed in all these fineries. These were very wealthy people because these were
the people who could have pictures taken of themselves. The common folks, we didn't have
a lot of pictures of them. But here, Jewish men were among the first to wear western clothes
in the 20th century. And after the British came after 1918 and established the Iraqi
government, because there were so many Jews there and they were educated, many of the
Jewish men got into the Iraqi government. In fact, this fellow, Albert Nassim, became
a member of parliament, and the first finance minister of Iraq was a Jewish man. Here's
some schoolboys dressed in looks like suits, long coats, and this is more for traditional
outfit that women and girls would wear. They wore much more traditional stuff than the men.
I call this housing and transportation. This is a typical well-to-do house in Baghdad,
a well-to-do family's house. A single family house that's built around a courtyard. The
house is built on the entire lot, on the street, and you'd have the four walls and the only
yard you'd have was in the interior which was open to the air, had no roof over here.
The lower level was where the kitchens were and where the tradesman would come in, like
this fellow's coming with his donkey, to bring some food and so-forth to the kitchens. And
the upper levels were the family rooms and the dining rooms and bedrooms and so forth
on this level; and here's another picture of that. And of course back in the early days
they didn't have automobiles, they didn't get them 'til much later. People travelled
by horse and cart. Love and Marriage. Women were- girls were betrothed at a very early
age, although not necessarily moving in with the husband. In their teen years, often times
at age fourteen, would be betrothed but still be living with her family until she became
eighteen to twenty or so and she'd move in with her husband and have children. But here's
this young lady and she's clutching this piece of paper which is the ketubah, which is the
marriage contract, or the betrothal contract. Here you can see a husband and wife wearing
western clothes, and it could be a marriage in Europe or even America in the early twenties
at that point in terms of the dresses they wear. What this young lady's doing here on
her fingers, this is called a Henna ceremony. Henna is a kind of herb that's crushed into
like a paste, and it gives off a very bright color. You may have heard of Henna, it's kind
of orange, orange-red. And the women, just before the bride, just before her wedding,
on the night before the wedding, the engagement party, or not the engagement party, but it's
the night before the wedding itself, they would create these balls of henna and put
it all ten fingers and would sit there for about an hour or so and then take it off,
and then her fingers would be bright orange. And it was meant to be for good luck or warding
off evil and things like that. So this was a common practice among the Jewish families
in Baghdad. I love this picture because here's Ms. Baghdad, was a Jewish women, and that's
not that long ago, some sixty years ago, Renee Dangoor, the granddaughter of that Hakham
who was, and you can see in her sash in Arabic, and she's holding this little statuette of
Venus De Milo. I always got a laugh out of that. The Iraqi Jews were very observant religiously.
Here we see the observance of circumcision, which we call Brit Milah, where the boy at
after 8 days is circumcised in a ceremonial fashion, and you can see here these guys are
all wearing robes, this guy's wearing a suit, and the rabbi with the mohel is the person
who does the actual cutting, is here with a turban. And so those ceremonies were pretty
common. Succoth is a holiday which happens to be, to start tonight. The Jewish festival
of Succoth begins tonight. But they were also very observant. They would built sukkots,
which are these booths, and they would erect them in their courtyards in their house that
I showed you earlier. And they'd be very large affairs, a big sukkot. They'd put all their
furniture, and they'd put benches and pillows, and stuff like tables, and they're supposed
to sit there and eat there and live there for eight days. And these guys actually did
it. And the climate around this time of year in Baghdad is still very warm and they don't
have very much rain, you know, tomorrow we may get a lot of rain so people who are doing
sukkots here in Rhode Island might get pretty wet if they're going to want to sit outside.
But back there they didn't have that problem. There's a Bar Mitzvah ceremony, which you
may have heard of, is a ceremony when a boy, and now they also have girls a Bat Mizvah,
goes through a ceremony of coming into adulthood. The actual ceremony in Baghdad was not so
much what they do now, which is the boy reads from the Torah and a Haftorah in a synagogue.
The main event was the boy putting on these phylacteries, which are we call tefillin,
and that was observed very very strongly. So here's one a boy in Baghdad, and there's
a boy there in Iran. In case you didn't recognize him, that's me. They had schools, community
education, there was a wonderful institution that was created by the French, French Jews
who brought English and French and Arabic learning to places like Baghdad. It was called
the l'Alliance Israelite Fracais. And this started in 1880s, and they educated generations
of Jewish boys and girls in these schools. And while the schools where called l'Alliance
they also had other names, like the girls school was called the Laura Kadoorie School,
which my mother went to, and they had Albert David Sassoon boys school. They played soccer,
this was in 1931, they called it football, and these guys would compete with other schools
in the region. So it was a big thing there. I love this picture because this is the girl's
school and while the girls got an education in English and French and Math and so forth,
they also had to learn how to sew. So here you can see them all proudly holding up their
embroidery and their sewing teacher with their sewing machine. They look a little glum but
I think they were happy. Here's a girl's school, the lower school. Huge. I told you there was
a hundred and twenty thousand of them at this time. My mother is somewhere in this picture,
I'm not sure which one she is, we can't actually identify her, but she was a kindergardener
at the time. She happens to still be alive, she's 92, to give you perspective. But she's
in there somewhere. Music and Dance. There was all kinds of cultural activity going on
there. They had music bands where they would play this instrument called a zither, and
which, its a zither which had a different name to it hanun, and the ud and violins and
the cello and wind instruments and so forth. But the band itself was called Chartley, and
it's a very particular kind of sound and they play it at all the weddings and is very very
popular. I happen to hear this and I just go crazy, I just love it. I don't have an
example of it, this doesn't have sound. But this is what they play and it's very very
popular, and a lot of the singing is in Arabic, in fact most of it is Arabic and it's very
popular among the Iraqi community. And of course there was a girl dancing over here as well
Making a Living. Most men were merchants and they worked buying and selling stuff,
and here's a rice merchant with a bag of rice, and they worked in markets which we called
a Sukh, over here. Here's another street scene in Baghdad, of a guy, police officer, helping
a this kid cross the street. Now earlier I said that this whole Jewish population left
Baghdad so that there's none left. That was just about 70 years ago, and while they made up
40% of the population. How did this happen, how did they just come to disappear? There
was first of all, there was a devastating pogrom in 1941 which marked the beginning
of the end of Iraqi Jewry, in much the same way as the Kristallnacht, if you may have
heard about it, that happened in Germany where there was this tremendous pogrom in Germany
that marked the beginning of the Holocaust. Now in my opinion the three historical factors
that led to this pogrom and doomed the Jewish community. Firs was rising Arab nationalism.
This was primarily directed against the British. Here where the Iraqis had a king who was not
from the area, they had these British overlords and of course they resented them deeply and
they wanted the British out as quickly as possible. The Jews were caught in the crossfire
because they were seen as British sympathizers, and probably they were. Many of the Jews were
wealthy and they had very good positions in commerce and government, under the king and
with the British. There was also the rise of Naziism, now we just think of Naziism and
Hitler and all that taking place only in Europe, but it was actually filtering into the Middle
East and North Africa. That has been document. There was the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem met
with Hitler's people and brought a lot of Nazi officers to Baghdad and my parents recalled
seeing Nazi officers on the streets of Baghdad and that was very frightening to them. So
the Nazi program was to work with the Mufti and the others and say we will come and win
the war and then we will bring the same final solution to the Middle Eastern Jews that we're
doing for the European Jews. And then of course there was Zionism and the birth of Israel.
The Jews of Baghdad were not originally Zionists, they felt that they were Arabs, called ourselves
Arab Jews. Sounds like an oxymoron but it's true, Arab Jews, Arabs of the Jewish faith,
and they wanted to be left alone. And they wanted to live in Baghdad the way their parents
and forbears did for two millennia. Twenty six hundred years, more than two millennia.
None-the-less, many Iraqi Muslims sympathized, they also sympathized with the Arabs in Palestine
and felt that they were being mistreated so they were working to prevent a Jewish state
in Palestine and the Jews wanted nothing to have nothing do with what was going on in Palestine but
was still accused of being Zionist and were persecuted for it. It is said that before
1941 Jews were anti-Zionist, after 1941 became Zionists and were eager to flee to Israel
and other parts of the world. Here is a picture of the Grand Mufti. This is a German Nazi
magazine, who is giving the solute to troops in Bosnia. Now I want to come to that, I've
been referring to this pogrom that took place in 1941. The name in Arabic for that pogrom is
farhud, which means pogrom, or a total breakdown of law and order. It happened on two holy days on
the Jewish calender, a holiday called Shavuot, it's a major Jewish festival. In 1941 the
two days of Shavuot fell on June 1st and June 2nd. In the run-up to the pogrom the Iraqi
king and the British Mandate leaders were overthrown and expelled from the capital for
about 3 months prior to June 1st. So it was several months before that. The government
was taken over temporarily by a pro-Nazi regime, led by a person named Rashid Ali. This regime
lasted only a few months because by the end of May it collapsed and Rashid Ali and his
gang fled Baghdad, and the king and British army returned to power in Baghdad. But there
was a gap of about three or four days when the Rashid Ali forces fled the city of Baghdad,
and the young king now, this is the grandson of the first king, his name was also Faisal,
he was a boy, he was 9 or 10 years old and his uncle was a reagent helping him out, and
there was also the British army behind him. For those 3 or 4 days they did not enter the
city of Baghdad, they stayed outside on the other side of the Tigris river. This was a
period when there was absolute anarchy, complete breakdown of law and order, farhud. No one
was in charge, there was no police, nothing. Violent drive were breaking out all over the
city, and worse yet this violence was being directed at the Jews. In 2 days of unrelenting
rioting and pillaging, the Jewish shops were being ransacked, homes were being invaded,
the occupants were being beaten or killed, women were raped, babies were smashed to the
ground by the angry mob. Now what set off this violent rampage? On the first night of
Shavuot, this is what we think, my parents lived through this and they're actual eye-witnesses.
Shavuot is a major holiday, the men they get dressed up and they walk to Synagogue.
So they're all dressed up in their nice suits, they're walking on the way to Synagogue, they
walked the bridge because they heard the king and his entourage were going to cross any
minute and come and restore order. So they go to the bridge thinking the king is going
to come, and of course the king never showed up and the mob, there was a mob of people
mistook these well-dressed men, making fun of them, they said they're looking dressed
up all like that to mock us because our leader Rashid Ali has been thrown out, so they got
very angry and ran on these men and killed them all. My parents were caught up in this.
When words spread that Jews were being killed in the city, they, my parents, were still young,
ust gotten married, it was before they had children, before they had me, they
and about forty or so of their extended family or clan, they were living in different houses
but they felt endangered and one of the- my mother's uncle, said go to my house which
is on the outside on the end of town, and maybe you might be safe there. So they huddled,
barricaded themselves in this uncle's house, locked all the doors and windows and put furniture
against the windows and doors and armed themselves with kitchen knives, as if this would help them.
The uncle had one gun and just a couple of bullets, what he was going to use that
for, my grandmother told him if, God forbid, we get invaded, the first thing you have to
do is shoot Leonie, my mother, pregnant, shoot her sister, and all the young women, just
shoot them all, because they were fear that the women would be raped and rape was a- death
was more preferable to rape and torture. So that was the reason for having the gun, they
were going to get shot. My mother didn't know this until years later, the uncle told her
why he was carrying the gun, and he was going to do what his sister told him to do. But
fortunately, didn't happen, they were spared, the mob did not actually reach their home,
and they eventually were spared. By the time the British came back to seize control this
mob had rampaged for 2 days, and as I said, it was it a pogrom of epic proportions.
180 were killed, 240 were wounded, 586 were pillaged, and 99 homes were burned. There not many pictures
of that period, but here's a picture of rioting in Baghdad during this period. I'm not sure
of the source of this or whether that was the actual farhud or if it was another event.
But there was an Iraqi artist who immigrated to Israel and he painted, he made this painting,
his name is Nissim Zalait. And he made this painting called, he made 2 paintings, I'll
show you the other one, called the Month of Fear, and he sort of depicted the horror and
the fright that people experienced during that period. And then after the storm of the
pillaging and the death that ensued from that period. So these two paintings very powerful
reminders of what happened. After the farhud this fate of the Jews were sealed. My parents
and the extended family left for India two weeks later. Most however, most of the Jews
remained in Baghdad hopeful that things would settle, and it did, sporadically. In 1958
the king was deposed and killed, and the British were ousted, and a series of strong rulers
in Iraq came and went, the last one being Saddam Hussein, and we know what happened
to him. Jews were expelled from government jobs, they were prevented from practicing
their professions, and the businessmen were hounded in their shops. There were show-trials,
like this one, a famous trial of 1969 where these guys were hanged on trumped-up charges
that they were Israeli spies, which was not true. The exodus was on, this is a flight
airlift to Israel in 1950 and these are folks registering for immigration to Israel also
in 1950. The Iraqi government at the time had something they called denaturalization,
which means you lose your citizenship, and the Jews were able to leave but on the condition
that they could take nothing with them, they had to leave everything behind, couldn't take
any jewelry, just clothes you were wearing and you could walk out and that's it. Nothing
that belonged to you could go with you. So, ah, in 2004, NPR, you may have heard the NPR
announcer or reporter guy, fellow named Guy Raz, did a piece that he called "The Last
Jews of Baghdad" and on their website they had these photos that I was able to copy.
These are the people that he interviewed in Baghdad, who at that time in 2004 were still
there and I heard that they're all gone as well. And maybe older chaps are maybe dead.
India. It's coming to India. India was their refuge. Penniless and destitute my parents
arrived in Bombay, which is now called Mumbai, right here on this map. In July 1941 my brother
was born a month later and I was born in 1944. India was a safe-haven for Iraqi Jews since
the 18th century when there was an ancestor of ours, this fellow here named David Sassoon,
fled an oppressive Ottoman governor in Baghdad and ended up in Bombay where he made a fortune
in textiles. Sassoon Mills and Sassoon Docks are still common names in Mumbai. If you go
there and asks to see the Sassoon docks they'll show you were it is. I want to talk briefly
about the Jewish communities of India. There are three distinct Jewish groups in India,
and most of them are settled in Bombay on the east coast and also a significant yet
dwindling group in Calcutta and in Cochin, on the western coast. Bene Israel is the most
ancient group and they lived on the west coast of Inida, including Bombay. It is believed
that they belonged to the original lost tribes of Israel and they probably began with stranded
Jewish merchants and sailors some 2000 years ago. They are a remarkable people who kept
authentic Jewish rituals and beliefs and were able to blend in with Indian and Hindu society.
The Cochin Jews lived in south central India and their origins date to around the year 500
much later. Most of their traditions, they kept most of the traditions of Judaism,
built synagogues, and I'll show you a picture of one, and they kept to themselves and had
almost no intermarraige. The Iraqi Jews, of which I'm decended, began it's immigration
to India in the mid 18th-century, as I mentioned Sassoon, but there was also the Kadoorie family,
they helped in establishing these communities by establishing and supporting synagogues,
schools, and other communal services. The major influx of the Iraqi Jews came to India
after World War I when Britain took over Iraq from the Turks and administered the Iraqi
government out of Bombay. They became a prosperous community of professionals, business people,
and merchants. India is unique in that there was and is still no anti-semitism. It was amazing
that my father, and Iraqi refugee, arriving penniless, was permitted to work and gain
citizenship with no quarters and no discrimination. In 1941 America was close to these people as we
know full well. The locals here could call this area of town Jew Town, which somebody
might not find it an offensive term, but it's not offensive at all, it's simply is an acknowledgement
that Jews live here because it's called Jew Town. And here's a picture of a wedding, a
Bene Israel wedding, in Bombay. Here's a picture of a synagogue in Calcutta, which still standing,
the Maghen David, and these are all the Torah scrolls, tons of them. And it's got a sephardic
eastern style with the central bima, the central podium for prayers, and the arc and the Torah
scrolls over in that location. They made Matzoh. Matzoh is a kind of bread that is used on
Passover, the Jews have on Passover, and during Passover, these ladies, and they're all Jewish
including these women here, they look Indian but they're Bene Israel women, and they were
preparing these bread for use during the Passover holiday. Speaking of Passover, during Passover
there's a Seder that you may have heard about, that's a ritual that's conducted in the home,
and during the Sader the book that they read is called a haggadah, which is the telling
of the Exodus and mostly in America you'll find a haggadah that has Hebrew on one side
and English on the other side. Here you have a haggadah in India that has Hebrew on one
side and Marathi on the left side. Marathi was the language that the Indians spoke in
Bombay, and it's slightly different from Hindi, but this is Marathi on this side. Interesting.
Here's another picture from that same book, the Haggadah, where in Marathi explaining
how to make Matzoh for the Passover holiday, that's not only used for the Seder ceremony
but it also an instructional book on how to prepare for the holiday. I had a very happy
childhood in India. Those are picture of me, that's me in my family's sukkoth from when
I was a youngster in India. And me when I was three years old, that's my father, mother,
older brother, and my younger brother David. My birthday party. We were well off, my father
did well in his business and we lived in a very nice house in a nice section of Bombay,
and I just had very happy memories of India. And I was not aware of any bad things, my
parents sheltered me. I had no idea of the Holocaust, no idea of anti-semitism. None
of that. I was totally innocent. Here's a picture of my family, that's me there with
the nice clothes. We're all dressed up and ready to go to the synagogue, holding our
prayer shawls. I left India in 1957 at the age of 12. I was lucky enough to make one
return visit last year about after a 50 year absence. When we left we were supposed to
be going on a vacation of Tiran, and fully intended to come back. For many reasons my
father was persuaded by his mother, brother, and uncle, that we should stay in Tiran, so
we never went back. When I left India I never said goodbye to any of my friends, so of course
that was devastating to me. I went back in January of 2008, just last year. And I went
with my younger brother, you saw the baby there, and his nephew, and what was astonishing
was not so much all the changes, we expected changes, but what had not changed. We left
a city of 5 million, and now there are over 14 million. Over 60% of the population lives
in shanty shacks and you've seen some of the pictures in that movie Slum-dog Millionaire.
I found our childhood playgrounds, the apartment building we lived in and where our flat was, et cetera.
Here's a picture of the synagogue that our family belonged to, and I went back there
and that's me there with the Shamash who's the guy who runs the place in the synagogue.
And it was pretty much the way I remembered it as a child going there as a youngster.
We also went- here's another picture of the David Sassoon Library in Bombay, a very prominent
building. And a statue of David Sassoon himself and me over there. And we went to Cochin,
which is one of the other communities, and this is the Pardesi synagogue. It's an amazing place
you can see the place where the Torah scrolls are kept and all the motifs here are- look
very Indian, very Hindu style, and that was the mixture of the two cultures and that
was very prominent. And you could have places like Jew Street, which some people may again
take offense to, but it was an acknowledgment, you know, Jews live in the street so we call
it Jew Street. And this lady here was making skull-caps. So other picture, that's myself,
my younger brother, that's the nephew, that's the gate we have India, and that's the three
of us with the fake elephant behind us. So my experiences in India, and hearing about
and reading about, my ancestors in ancient Babylonia to modern Iraq has given me an unusual
perspective into the perseverance of our people. We exist now only in memories and stories
like this which I think is worth telling, and was my pleasure to share with you all.
I would be happy to take any questions.
[applause]