Visiting the Jewish Community Relations Council

Last week I was invited by my editor from The Chaldean News to attend a luncheon hosted by the Jewish Community Relations Council. They were featuring Yonah Jeremy Bob, an intelligence, terrorism and legal analyst of the Jerusalem Post. The subject was “Confronting the Next Wave of Terror: The Age of Lone Wolves.”

I accepted the invitation because part of what I love about my journalism job is the opportunities of meeting new people, places, and subject matters. This subject is particularly timely – we all witnessed the horrific terrorist act that happened yesterday in New York – and I felt I could learn quite a few things, some of which I could pass along to my Middle Eastern community.

Just before I received the invitation, a colleague contacted me wanting to have a better understanding about the Chaldean-Jewish newspaper partnership that was formed about seven years ago. She asked, “In your opinion, how has this affected relations between Chaldeans and Arabs in Metro Detroit, especially in regards to Palestinians?”

I told her that when I met with the administration of the Arab American National Museum, they praised the Jewish community for supporting their causes and efforts. Chaldean leaders and professionals praise the Jewish community for supporting their causes and efforts. As for the Chaldean/Arab relations – that’s another story. We discussed this issue a little further, but there were opinions I didn’t share with her which I will do so here.

As a Chaldean (Christian Iraqi) born in Baghdad, my ancestors have deep roots to Judaism, primarily through Prophet Abraham as he was from Ur, land of the Chaldeas. As a journalist and book author, who for the last ten years have mostly written nonfiction and memoir, I’ve learned much about the Jewish community, not merely through research but from the people who I encounter. For instance, as the 10th Anniversary of September 11 neared, NAAJA (National Arab American Journalists Association) held its 6th annual conference entitled “Strengthening the Voices of American Arabs.” Its objectives were to address challenges journalists faced in the pro-Democracy movement in the Middle East and Arab world. I was one of the speakers and so was Dawud Walid, the Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Michigan branch.

Here’s a passage from my Eric Hoffer Award winning book The Great American Family: A Story of Political Disenchantment, quoting Dawud Walid:

“We complain about how the media views Arab Americans. But until Arab Americans get involved in journalism, become those people who are over the editorial staff, we’re going to keep getting the same of what we’ve been getting. The Jewish experience is very rich and we should draw from it. Jewish Americans were involved in the civil rights movements. I challenge our community in that we need to stand up and get involved in other peoples’ struggles as well and this will help bring us more friends to support us.” (pg 248)

Here’s another passage from The Great American Family: A Story of Political Disenchantment where I have a conversation with a CIA operative, a Muslim born in Iraq but who spent the majority of his life in Europe. I told him that I’d heard a rumor that the houses in Iraq were being bought at huge prices, paid cash, by Jews so that they could make Iraq their land, since so much of their history lives there. His response was this:

“Iraqi Jews have strong ties in Iraq. Daniel, the guy in the Den of Lion’s biblical story, is buried in Iraq. Ezra is buried in Iraq. In the Hebrew Bible, Ezra returned from the Babylonian exile and reintroduced the Torah in Jerusalem. The Jews have been in Iraq since Babylonian time. Iraq and the Jewish are very interlinked. They are part of Iraq’s tapestry. If some of them come back and buy in Iraq, well, why not? If Iraq was wise, they would allow them to come back to Iraq. I know a lot of Iraqi Jews and they are the kindest people outside of Iraq.”  (pg. 277)

He also mentioned that not long ago, the Jews, Christians and Muslims lived there in harmony, which I’d read in the book My Father’s Paradise by Ariel Sabar, a Kurdish Jew whose family still spoke Aramaic.

The next passage is from my memoir series Healing Wisdom for a Wounded World (Book 1). It’s a conversation I had with Dr. Emily Porter, an artist, writer, historian and human and women’s rights activist. She was born to a British father and an Iraqi mother, studied in Iraq, Moscow, the UK and USA, and had worked at Baghdad Museum before fleeing Saddam’s regime. She said to me:

“Iraqis are Jewish. Jews stem from Iraq. Iraqi Jews make up one of the world’s oldest and most historically important Jewish communities. That’s why, when I was in Jerusalem, there were so many streets named after Iraqi regions. Dig deep in their history and you will find all their beauty.” (pg. 258)

Emily exchanged more information, which I included in the book, basically talking about how the Jews understand, appreciate and support art and culture while our community – not so much.

I too once visited Jerusalem and enjoyed touring Israel. I observed, learned from, and listened to both sides – the Israelis and the Palestinians – to comprehend their underlying problem and why it’s so difficult for them to a middle ground. While the answers are not black or white, I do think that in order for Middle Easterners to change the story that has been ruling that region, they have to let go of old mentalities, attitudes and beliefs that have kept them from moving forward and generally not served the Arab World – especially when it comes to women. Adopting more western values would likely help them enter a more empowering story.   

At the luncheon, I asked Yonah Jeremy Bob several questions, and I’ll one day share this dialogue in more detail.  For now, in my opinion, the most important words he said, repeated, and emphasized were, “We will work with anyone who works with us.”

 

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