“I survived Baghdad to get cancer?”
My mother’s words stir my heart as the 75th anniversary of the Farhud, the Rashid Ali Rebellion of 1941, was commemorated last week.
I wish my mother was still alive to see the Jewish media finally begin to catch up with Mizrahi history.
Every bit of validation counts.
Mom was just sixty-four, ready to enjoy her retirement. Instead we were looking for a cancer support group. She survived Iraq, twenty years of statelessness, and finally made it to America- it felt ludicrous, a booby prize.
But she was always a good student and the medical profession had no cure for her; her best bet was to unpack childhood trauma, find a support group, and work on “attitudinal healing.”
Nurse “Z” was our first stop.
“She is Jewish,” mom noticed, feeling safe as the intake interview began.
“I survived Baghdad, the Farhud, the Arabs, for this?”
I recognized Z, yes, she was Jewish, but anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, and not a good candidate for validating mom’s life story as a traumatized Jew under Islam.
Mom didn’t recognize Z’s horror was not about her experience of surviving the daily humiliation and fear of being a Jewish girl in Baghdad ducking from Muslim men ready to pinch her budding nipples, to the horror of the Farhud, but about mom’s “racism.”
I wished Z a lifetime in Baghdad. It would be the only way she would understand. Let’s see how Z would fare under Islam as a Jew, a woman, and oh, a lesbian feminist.
As all of the above myself, I have no illusions.
Even one dhimmi law (codified humiliating and pauperizing laws for Jews and Christians) would be enough to shatter the repulsive apologists and narrative of the left:
Jews lived gloriously under Islam until the establishment of modern Israel. Zionism not Muslim superiority was the problem that my ignorant mother and the rest of us backward Mizrahim, half of Israel’s Jewish population, just fail to grasp.
“We were Jews, and even though we were also Arabic, we were second class citizens, dhimmi…we never knew how we would be treated, it depended on the whim of the rulers, but they always reminded us to know our place…a Jew would be arrested, or killed to remind us…we couldn’t fight back. We were always at their mercy.“
Did it sound like whining to Z? Did it sound like the ranting of an Arab-hating racist? Amazing, how mom would be seen both as an ignorant Arab and an Arab-hating racist at the same time. I cringed then and I cringe now.
“…but this, the Farhud, that erupted when the pro-Nazi government of Rashid Ali fell, this was different from anything we ever knew…
the screams, the screams, they were coming closer and closer to our house…
it was our pogrom, my (Ashkenazi) friends never heard of us…”
She was sixteen, running in terror with her family to their rooftop terrace to see where the screams were coming from.
“…they came in hordes, slashed and burned and looted and … girls were raped in front of their families, limbs were cut off to get bracelets…
I slept with my shoes on for two weeks ready to run…”
When it was over, mom remembers seeing the Tigris overflowing with items the marauders had no use for; furniture, electric appliances, a piano, pieces of Jewish life floated past.
2,600 years of Jewish life in Baghdad even as dhimmi, was soon to be finished.
I am relieved to hear Z tell mom she is not symptomatic enough yet for the group .
My mom knew who she was. She knew her history and wasn’t afraid to remember.
She knew what she survived, and did everything to keep living the life she loved.
Her body failed, but her spirit remained intact.
Unlike Z, she knew who she was.
She survived Baghdad, even if she did not survive the cancer.