I learn something new every day. And that’s what keeps life fascinating.
For instance, I recently learned that up until the early 1950s, Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Iraq lived among one another in friendship. I also knew little about Kurdish Iraq, especially its Jewish population.
In fact, I didn’t even know it had had a Jewish population until I picked up Ariel Sabar’s memoir, My Father’s Paradise (Algonquin Books, 2006). Sabar delivers a fascinating account of modern Iraqi history told from the point of view of his observant Jewish father’s family.
When Sabar’s father, Yona, was still a teen, his family left along with 120,000 other Iraqi Jews for the promised land of Israel.
Only it wasn’t the haven European Jews experienced or envisioned. Sabar recounts how the founders of Israel pictured the new Jewish homeland almost as a Mediterranean Vienna: classical music, cafe culture, flaky pastries.
And then came the Iraqi Jews (along with Jews from Libya, Yemen, Bulgaria, and other rustic countries). Of these, the Kurdish Jews were treated like street sweepers (which is where many found employment). The Iraqi Jews were so looked down upon that the leaders of Israel left them stranded in Iraq for a year after they were rounded up for a mass exodus out of an ever-increasing hostile Iraq.
The book is split into three sections: Yona Sabar’s childhood and family roots; the family’s difficult new life in Israel; and Yona and son Ariel’s troubled relationship, then later reconciliation, in Los Angeles, Israel, and Kurdish Iraq.
Each section could almost serve as a stand-alone book. Put together, they form a heart-rending story of a family who is forced to leave their home–and a simple, stress-free way of life–forever.