Marina Benjamin, author of the Last Days of Babylon, and I spoke about her family story, her experiences in Iraq during the war, and her thoughts on Babylonian Jewry. Here is an excerpt of our conversation, published as a Q&A in the Forward:
Q: You write about the last remaining Jews of Baghdad and, in doing so, declare that millennia-old Jewish life there has come to an end. Those Jews who remained behind, you write, chose to be Iraqis first and Jews second. Would there be inherent worth in the reconstitution of Jewish life in Iraq?
A: It is a question that is hard for me to answer, as someone who was not born in Iraq. But I know many Iraqis who would certainly entertain going back, were such a thing possible, and who believe Jewish life should be resuscitated. As I write in the book, this is a place of ancient importance to the Jews. In fact, one of the responses to the Balfour Declaration was that Iraqis couldn’t quite understand why Palestine was being chosen as the national home. They said: “Well, why can’t Mesopotamia be the national home? We have the history! Abraham was born here, Daniel was here, Ezra was here.” You can’t accuse the Iraqi Jews of never being proud of their heritage.
Funny–American Jews seem to think the same thing now. Simon Rawidowicz had it right in his essay, Babylon and Jerusalem: in every generation there is a Babylon and a Jerusalem–and we need to ensure that Jerusalem frames Babylon, and not the other way around.