To mark the Jewish New Year 5777, the American Sephardi Federation has released rare footage from a Rosh Hashana service in a Baghdad synagogue, which it has digitised and published for the first time.
The video was recorded in the last functioning synagogue in Baghdad, Meir Tweig, in the 1990s by a UN official posted to Baghdad to monitor Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. (The official is heard fretting that she might run out of batteries for her camera). At the time, less than 100 Jews still lived in Baghdad out of a 1948 community of 140,000.
The ASF says: ” the tapes were in storage until just recently and time was taking its toll as the film degraded. If we did not digitize this footage immediately, these last video vestiges of Iraq’s last Jews would have vanished, just like Jewish communities throughout Iraq.”
As well as the blowing of the shofar, the video features the singing of the Hon Tahon piyyut, a standard part of Sephardi liturgy.
The younger man on the far left of the video is Emad Levy. Emad served as ‘Jewish community spokesman’ after the 2003 US invasion, and was the last Jew in Iraq who could read Hebrew. Following his father Ezra, he made aliya to Israel. Ezra died in 2016.