#IsraelPalestineSeries Last Days in Babylon | No. 8
Novel: Last Days in Babylon: The Story of the Jews of Baghdad
Author: Marina Benjamin
Strictly speaking this isn't a book about Israel or Palestine. But it is about the Iraqi Jewish community, who now mostly reside in Israel.
The author, Marina Benjamin, is of Iraqi Jewish descent and travels back to Baghdad to trace the roots of her family. I knew about this book a few years ago as I read extracts from it for an essay I was writing in university, however this was the first time I read it from cover to cover. It is beautifully written, and is the best work of narrative non-fiction I have read all year.
Benjamin combines social history with the personal story of her own family history in Iraq. The Iraqi Jewish community was one of the oldest diaspora communities, dating back to the first exile in the 6th Century BC. However, despite their two and a half thousand year history in Iraq, the community ceased to exist in just a few decades in the mid-20th Century. This is part of the wider narrative of the exodus of Mizrahi Jews from Arab countries, but the story of the Jews of Iraq is very sad and very layered. Benjamin explores government policies towards Jews, the attitudes of other Iraqis towards Jews, and the impact the birth of Israel has on their community. She also looks at their social status, how this changes throughout the 20th Century, and how the community is viewed by Ashkenazi Jews once they are in Israel.
I find this books provides a great understanding on the background of the Iraqi Jewish community now residing in Israel.