Iraq’s Jewish Community Strives to Save Its Heritage

In a busy district of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, there is little to distinguish the faded brick building, except for a Hebrew inscription above the entrance.

Iraq’s Jewish community was once one of the largest in the Middle East but its members have dwindled to a handful, outside of the autonomous Kurdistan region.

“Our heritage is in a pitiful condition” and authorities take no notice, said a member of the congregation who requested anonymity, fearing reprisals.

Their precious history, including the synagogue, is threatened in a country torn apart by decades of war, corruption and armed groups.

While historical treasures ruined by jihadists are being restored in Iraq, rare international efforts at saving the Jewish heritage have not been enough.

Baghdad’s Meir Tweig Synagogue, built in 1942, seems to have been frozen in time.

Behind its padlocked doors, the benches are covered in white cloth to shield them from the sun. The walls of the sky-blue two-storey columned interior are crumbling.

The steps leading to a wooden cabinet holding the sacred Sefer Torah scrolls are coming apart.

Flanked by marble plaques engraved with seven-branched candelabra and psalms, the cabinet shelters the scrolls written in hand calligraphy on gazelle leather.

“We used to pray here,” the member said. “We celebrated our festivals, and in summer we studied religious courses in Hebrew.”

One synagogue in Iraq’s south has been illegally occupied and turned into a warehouse, the woman added.

“Save this heritage,” she said, asking for the United Nations’ help.

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