“They saved my life, they were Muslim, a young doctor and his wife, when I gave myself an abortion and almost died,” Granny remembers.
“Efraim (her husband) was so angry I think he would have let me die!”
Granny’s story was different from most of the Jews of Baghdad.
She wasn’t born there.
She grew up free in Singapore. She had no idea Jews were despised in her husband’s country. Her Iraqi grandparents never told her.
It’s easier to forget.
It turned out to be a nightmare for her and for the family when her husband, an Iraqi Jew who worked for her father in Singapore brought her “home” to Baghdad.
She refused to abide by the customs of this highly traditional culture. She not only made friends outside the family, she became close with a highly educated Muslim couple.
“They loved me, a Jew, they always said I wasn’t like the other Jews,” she almost religiously chanted. It validated and mediated the resentment she experienced in the home.
The family experienced her as a liability. She put them in danger every time she opened her mouth on the streets.
“What was I supposed to do? Just accept the abuse?”
She had none of the fear Iraqi Jews lived with for centuries. Nor would she respect their rules. She spoke back on the streets when men taunted her and called her gaghba, yehudi, and threatened to come after her and her daughters. Being called “prostitute,” and taunted as “Jew,” was just a part of life for Iraqi Jews who knew better and kept their heads down and their voices silent.
In the United States women like Granny were institutionalized and lobotomized through the 1950’s. That wasn’t an option in Baghdad because surely her behavior during her fourth pregnancy would have sent her to an institution in America.
“I had to end it. But there was no way to do it. There was no place for an abortion. I had no help.
“I was not going to bring one more child into that place– To be a Jew in Iraq?”
“I threw myself down the stairs many times.
I threw the sewing machine on my stomach.
I was not going to have this baby.”
“And I started hemorrhaging. I didn’t know what to do. The bleeding wouldn’t stop. The family hated me. I ran to my Muslim friend, her husband was a doctor. They saved me.”
But the story doesn’t end here.
Granny eventually found herself and her three children out of Iraq.
But by the time she left, she no longer thought of the family as a mess of delusional paranoiacs.
It was at this dinner party when she was struck with her moment of truth.
My Granny Meeda sat at the dinner table with the friends who saved her life. She sat there as they introduced the guest of honor the Grand Mufti of Palestine, Haj Amin al-Husseini the famous Jew hater who made a pilgrimage to Germany to meet with his hero the Führer.
She witnessed her friends sit in rapt attention as the Mufti spoke of exterminating Jews off the planet. She saw them nod in approval as he promised Hitler would take care of not only Europe’s, but also Iraq’s Jews and all the Jews of North Africa, Palestine, and the entire Middle East. She heard the silence when no one retaliated.
As she remembered I saw the look in her eyes. My fearless Granny, Meeda the rebel, the one who opened her mouth “no matter what,” shook her head as if still trying to shake off the haze of disbelief, “I finally understood.”
She understood something that so many of us Jews still don’t.
See more from Rachel Wahba at rachelwahba.com