Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Arab Jews

Growing up in the Middle East means you have little chance to meet a Jewish person. I was lucky enough to grow up in Basra where our neighbor was a Jewish lady, who was married to a Muslim Basrawi.

When I graduated college, I worked for the Department of Education in Baghdad. As a college graduate, I was required to serve one year in a hospital as an assistant nurse. The rule was introduced during Iran-Iraq War. The first day I arrived at the hospital, I learned from the whispers that doctor XYZ is an Iraqi Jew. It wasn't hard to figure that one myself from his father's name. The patients were told he's a Muslim. I asked around why he had to say he's a Muslim. A nurse told me that's how he and his family can stay unharmed in Iraq. He was a very sweet guy. I hope he's still safe.

Arab Jews have almost disappeared from most of the Middle East during the last 30 to 50 years. There are good sized Iraqi-Jewish communities in America and other Western countries. Israel absorbed a large number of them. As you might remember, Saddam fired scud missiles at Israel during the First Gulf War in 1991. One of my Israeli readers, who is married to an Iraqi-Jew, said most of those missiles hit near the city where most Iraqi-Jews live in Israel. She said they always joke that Saddam didn't forget them even from such a far distance.

Bahraini blogger Esra'a bumped into a Bahraini-Jew lately. She decided to interview him for her blog. She did an excellent job with the Q&A session. Here's an excerpt from the interview:

Is it hard being an Arab-Jew here?

If no one asks me or mentions it, I never bring it up. So when I don't, I'm treated like everyone else. When I do mention it, people hold it against me. Not everyone does, though. I have several strict Muslim friends who don't mind me being Jewish. They just think it's weird and unusual for me to follow that religion as an Arab. I do get uncomfortable and scared when some people try to drag me into a heated religious and political debate. They keep thinking that just because I'm Jewish, I'm pro-Israel, which isn't entirely true.


His answers are really interesting. I admit I never knew there were any Bahraini-Jews. I learned something new from Esra'a today.

More on Arab-Jews from previous posts:
Iraqi - Israeli Handshake
Ashes to Art: The Iraqi Phoenix


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