“I survived Baghdad to get cancer”? Mom says ironically as we drive to one of the many medical appointments. We do most of our talking in the car, driving to and from the doctors. Today it is with a Dr. Rossman, a hypnotherapist highly recommended for his work with people struggling with life threatening illnesses.
We talk Baghdad where she grew up before fleeing to India. We want people to know about the long history of Iraqi Jews. And the beginning of the end of a three thousand year old history in Babylon.
The Rashid Ali Rebellion of l941, known to Iraqis as the Farhud, traumatized Iraq’s Jews to a point of no return. To this day many cannot talk about the horrors they experienced. It eclipsed the daily humiliations of being a “protected minority”, a second-class citizen under Islam.
“We never knew how we would be treated, it always depended on who was in power, a Jew might be killed now and then to remind us, and we kept quiet. This was different, it was our pogrom… my American friends never heard of it,” she said. Neither had mine. “Farhud” loosely translated, means “total breakdown”. Ignited by the collapse of the pro-Nazi government of Rashid Ali, uncontrolled mobs stormed the Jewish Quarter without warning. Hundreds of Jews were murdered in front of their families, thousands of Jewish homes and businesses looted and destroyed, and we will never know how many girls and women were raped. My mother was sixteen.
The rampage lasted for exactly 48 hours. But the trauma remained alive in her cells. She never forgot the screams “getting louder and louder” as she waited helplessly with her family on their rooftop ready to run. She slept with her shoes on for the next two weeks. It was the worst thing that ever happened to her.
Or so I thought, until she came out of Dr. Rossman’s office.
“I can’t believe I told him my life story…He wanted to know my traumas.”
(The Farhud of course, I thought. )
“I told him the worst thing that happened in my life was when you became a lesbian.”
“It was the first time I told a stranger.”
I wasn’t ready for this. “Worse than if I converted and became a nun?”
“Worse than the Farhud?” (it couldn’t be)
“You have to understand, that’s how I felt, its not how I feel now. I am not the same Katie from Baghdad, or when you first brought Judy home. I love her I changed. I didn’t understand about gays and lesbians, now look at my support group. I was afraid, afraid you would be an outcast, that you would be a second class citizen, alone, shunned. Do you understand?”
No, I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand that unlike the Farhud, my coming out as a lesbian was intensely PERSONAL. It was just she and I. It had nothing to do with centuries of being an oppressed minority glued together to survive.
Too young and too inflamed by lesbian feminism, I didn’t have the understanding, the empathy for what seemed like an unreasonable freak-out on her part.
I didn’t get it then, I didn’t understand how alone she felt.
There was no organized Jewish community to mourn with, no tours of the decimated Jewish Quarter to rebuild. No escape. This was her personal Farhud. Of course it was worse for her, I understand now, what it took me twenty years after her death to get:
Of course mom, of course “it was worse than the Farhud”.