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Rebuilding Bridges to Iraq's Jewish Heritage

Iraq's Jewish community is remembered with both nostalgia and tragedy.
A man reads a copy of the magazine "Israel-Kurd" at a street in Arbil, 310 km (190 miles) north of Baghdad August 16, 2009. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari (IRAQ SOCIETY) - RTR26SCA
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The Iraqi elite see the issue of Iraq's Jews in two ways: Nostalgia about a beautiful past, and a continuing tragedy of forced displacement which is not over yet. Although the expulsion of the Jews from Iraq was a painful tragedy of murder, persecution, theft and civil rights violations, both sides still long to see the Jews return to Iraq, something that is nearly impossible. The Jews’ exit from Iraq was a key turning point in the country’s history. It significantly changed Iraq’s composition and societal structure.

The history of the Jews in Iraq goes back more than 2,500 years. Back then, the Jews were oppressed by Assyrian King Sennacherib and Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. After the Persian King Cyrus freed the Jews in 539 BCE, most did not return to Jerusalem because they had grown accustomed to living in the Diaspora, in countries which had become their own for 25 centuries throughout KurdistanBaghdad, Basra, Hillah and even the holy Shiite city of Najaf. The Jews of Iraq left a significant impact on Mesopotamian civilization in general and on Jewish history in particular. The Old Testament and Jewish law were rewritten by Ezra and other Babylonian Jewish scholars.

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