Cynthia Kaplan

Sephardi Voices USA—1/06/2014

Cynthia Kaplan SV-NY019


H-What is your full name?

C-Cynthia Shamash

H-And what was your name at birth?


H-And when were you born?

C-Sept. 15, 1963

H-And where were you born, city and country.

C-Baghdad, Iraq

H-First, I just want to thank you for you taking your time and sharing with Sephardi voices your story.

C-You’re welcome.

H-So the first question, it’s a general question. Can you tell me something about your family’s background?

C-Let’s start with my mother’s side. I always grew up hearing stories about my grandfather. Uh, who was the pharmacist in Iraq, in Bagdad. One of the few pharmacists. And my mother used to always tell me uh this medication they used to come to him for it, and that medication, I remember my mother’s (before we escaped Iraq) her last day, before we left was going to her home where she grew up for a final glimpse, and she took my older sister with her, Linda and they were just curious to see for the last time who lived there and how the house looked like. And I guess for her it was a type of closure, knowing that she would never come back. My father was born in 1909. didn’t hear much about my grandparents from my father’s side. My father was an accountant. Uh, I remember his papers all over the place. Short hand, which was popular then. He was very well versed in Languages: French, learned in the Eliance (sp), English, and he worked for an English company, and, it’s basically why we stayed in Iraq, because he was one of the few that was asked to stay, to save the company in Bagdad. Now it’s called Ernest and Young, at the time the name was Winemary

Uh, both my parents have told me, separate, before they got married, about the Farhout and their experience during the farhout. And growing up that story was repeated to me, several times.

H-So let’s go back to your mother’s father. Who was a pharmacist. What was his name?


H-Afraim, and what was his wife’s name?


H-And Selema’s maiden name?


H-And where were they born, were they born in Bagdad?

C- They were born in Bagdad. I don’t know of any linkage in my heritage that was born outside that area. As far as I know, my great grandparents, my great great grandparents, all were born in that area.

H-And do you have memories with your grandfather and grandmother? On your mother’s side?

C-My grandfather and grandmother, from my mother’s side, had left in the Tusteit, a year after the Tusteit, in 1952. So they left before I was born. And there was no correspondence or communication since I was born. So I didn’t know how they looked like, I’ve never met my grandfather from my mother’s side. I met my grandmother the first time In Israel, uh..after we had escaped and were caught and then eventually when we ended up in Israel. And I was introduced to her, together with my siblings for the very first time.

H-And when was that?

C-In 1972

H-And what about your father’s parents? What were their names?

C-Um..Samara and, and Dehout

H-And where were they from? Where were they born?

C- They were born in Bagdad. I have never met them.

H-And the reason you never met them?

C-I think it’s age. My father was born in 1909. So they had passed away, way before I was born.

H-So when you grew up, what family was around you then? Was there any family still left around you?


H-And So when you would have a Shabbat at home. Who would come to the Shabbat dinner?

C-First of all we didn’t expand on Shabbat. It wasn’t elaborate or extravagant. My only memory of holiday is Pesach. I remember my mother wearing white silk. And making matzot and Purim we played cards and we didn’t much on other holidays.

H- Did you help your mother cook at all in the kitchen?

C-I smelled the food. It was exciting for me. It was exciting to see the matzahs. I didn’t know why it was such a hard few days but I loved every minute of it and uh and as a kid it was celebrated different than here uh, the youngest, was me, had to tie the matzah around her back and I was thrilled everytime they did that. And they send me outside the room and I got all the attention, and I had to knock on the door and they say, “Where are you coming from (Arabic/Hebrew version?) and my answer had to be (Hebrew) Minsrem Hiam and then they say, “And where are you going?” and I say “Jerusalem!” and they would welcome me with laughter and that was like for me, it was like, you know, broadway show. (Laughs) I loved it.

H-There’s a little bit of actress in you.

C-Yes. Yes, yes, yes. (Pause) But this is what stayed in my memory.

H-By the time you were born in 1963


H-The community was very small...


H- And uh, what area of Bagdad did you live in?

C-I cannot tell you specifically because we moved many times. As soon as my father feared that there were Arabs watching us and that we stood out as the Jews in the area, we would move. So I know the names of Mesba, etc but we did not stay in one home for [a] long a time.

H-And were you renting places?

C-We rented places

H-Were there other Jewish families close to you?


H- And do you remember any of those names of children or families that you would be associated with?

C-Yes, um, Tamar, Elijah, was my very good friend, Betasalam, Morna, um yes there were, there were a few families. We didn’t socialize as kids, we didn’t have play dates. Whenever the parents came together tot talk about situations but uh, there was a sense of keep it down. I knew even as a kid that there was, like something that we had to watch out for and I wasn’t free.

H-And how did you know that? Did your parents talk to you or was it just an intuitive sense?

C-For example, I remember it so vividly, I was playing geography with my sister and we had to name certain countries, and my sister who is 3 years older than me, you know, it’s a game where you continue the next country with the end of the letter. She wrote Israel and my father got so upset. “Don’t you ever, don’t you ever say that, write that name again. Israel. Inviting that sentence and I knew not to utter that word.

H-Your father’s name was?


H-Naim, and your mother’s?


H-And you said your father was born in 1909 you said?


H-And your mother?


H-And do you know anything about your father’s background, education?

C-I know he went to the Eliance, I know was very educated, as most Jew-Iraqi men were. And that may be why, we were also despised. Allies for British. Because they were very well versed in English. And um..I know he stopped working in 1967 after the 6 day war because he was petrified of being accused of being a spy for the British allies.

H-And your mother’s background, do you know?

C-She got married at 18, I know she didn’t educate herself past being a mother.

H- Did they come from big families, did they have brothers and sisters?

C-Yes, my father had a brother that stayed in Iraq, Salem, and he had a brother that had left in the tascrate(sp?) Moshe and he had a sister, Rachel, who also left in the tascrate.

H-And your mother’s family?

C- My mother’s family left as well. She had two sisters and a brother, and they all left. She was the only one that was left behind.

H-Do you know the story of your parents meeting, their marriage...?

C-Um...yes, he saw her walking around on the boardwalk, and uh, and he liked her, and he went to somebody who knew her family. And, of course, she praised him and he would make a great husband, and don’t worry about the retirement because he’s going to make a good living, and he works for a British company. And um, she told me she was playing upstairs and called downstairs and she wasn’t opposed to his looks so they got married. (Laughs) That’s how it was.

H-You have siblings? Can you tell me their ages and names please?

C-Yes, my oldest sibling is Linda born in 1955, then is David born in 1957, then my sister Olivia, born in 1960.

H- And you were born in 1963?


H- What do you recall as your earliest memories?

C-Well, I don’t recall that, um, really my early, early memory is my father’s heart attack when I was one. And I know that, you know in retrospect, 1963 was when (abdinesun?) was overthrown and things started to get bad for the Iraqi Jews, and my mother til today says, “Your first sentence was, ‘He will be alright’”. Because my father suffered a heart attack in 1954, I was one and now that I put everything together, I guess it was the pressure of everything, and also I remember um, “valium” being such a commercial word in the house. It’s valium, valium; I thought it was like some benevelont person. Valium? I would like Valium. Valium, valium, valium. Because, it was so available to the Jewish men and now I think about it. Like if, if, your life is hanging on the line, with a knock of the door, you need a tranquilizer. So, Valium; that’s what I remember really. (Laughs) My early, early childhood. My father will be alright.

H- You say, “knock on the door”, do you have a recollection of “knock on the door” in some way?

C- Yes. When there was a knock on the door, like I remember one picture: where my father was drinking the schnida (sp), which is typical, the diluted yogurt with dates because he had fluctuant diabeties. Right away my mother says, you go upstairs, I’ll open the door. We followed her, and a few men, Bath(sp) with mustache, “ Your husband, we want him for some questioning.” And now, even if I was 7 or 8, I understood what that meant, “questioning”. Questioning means men go to never return. I understood that much. And my mother reacted different to different pressures. She, somehow she felt like she had nothing to lose. I don’t know what inspired her but I remember standing next to her and she said, “What did we do wrong? We’re only Jews, what did we do wrong?” He said “No, we’re not discriminating.” And she said, “You are discriminating, “Arabic phrase (from heaven to the floor)” and the luck was on her side and they left. But we realized we couldn’t continue living like that.

H- Did um...when you think back in some of these homes you had, when you were 7,8.9, can you tell me about your bedroom? What did you bedroom look like?

C-First of all, a lot of times we slept on the sut(sp) in the open roof. But I remember one bedroom with an open window and I loved the date tree poking through the window. And I looked at the dates, through my window. That I loved and I remembered, doing homework there. So the time we slept in the sut(sp) and we used to take the bedding out early in the morning because the sun would burn the linens and at night I used to lie and count the stars because the stars were so visible. And my father always yelled at me, Sanutey (was my nickname), “Sanutey! Never count the stars, it’s bad luck!” We had so many superstitions.

H-What language would your father say that to you in?


H-Judearabic, and is that the main language you spoke in the house.


H-Did you learn any other languages when you were in Bagdad.

C-In school?

H-In school, or at home?

C-Well, English. Yes, English and French was taught in school.

H-And did you speak those languages to your siblings or your parents?

C-No, we spoke Arabic.

H- And was there, did you have help in the house at all?

C- Yes, we did. I remember, we had a gardener. After...that was early and then we didn’t have...We had a gardener, we had a cleaning girl. Because we didn’t have dish, uh wash machines, somebody who came only to do the laundry. Osala, Romana was her name, once a week, that was our wash machine. Yes, basically, ina big, big tub and she used to sit on a little...I loved that atmosphere, like the wash was going on, she was humming to me, singing to me, it was a nice atmosphere. Yes.

H- Do you remember any of the songs? Can you?

C-She used to say Sanotee ta aboutee (she’s going to iron), so she does the laundry “I’m going to iron.” (Laughs)

H-Did you iron?


H-What school did you go to?

C-I went to Frageenie, like my siblings did. And after that, I remember being transferred to Nahim Deim.

H-Do you remember why you were transferred?


H-And how did you get there to your school? Do you remember how you got there? Did your father drive you, did you have a car, did you walk?

C-We did have a car, we didn’t walk. No, I don’t remember how we get there. I remember our shoes had to be immaculate and our nails had to be clipped. Now they don’t care (laughs).

H-Did you go, after school let’s say, and visit with friends from your school, play at their homes? Or did you just go back home?

C-We kept, we kept it low. We kept it low (shakes head).

H- What about your parents, did they have friends over at all?

C-They had friends to socialize but it wasn’t anything elaborate. I felt like, even then there was a feeling of being trapped. They were, I knew they were like a feeling of being trapped. Like they’re talking about escapes, like how to get out, how to hide this, how to hide that: this was the topic of conversation, from my memory.

H-With your parent’s friends?


H-That you would hear?

C- I felt it and this was the topic of conversation.

H- And you were born in 63’, 67’ was the six day war.

C-Correct. /

H-You, were four then or close to four./

C-Yeah. But/

H-Do you have any memories of that?

C-Yes. I remember the transistor radio. And we all used to go and my parents used to (puts finger over mouth motioning “shh”). And I’m looking at their eyes, I know there is something fishy going on. And I had to read my parents reactions. I, I, I knew there was something bad...and, and very underground going on. So, we used to listen to that. And, and I was very cued in to my parents reactions. And after that, I remember my father coming home one day and telling my mother he is not working anymore.

H-Your family was, would you consider it, to be traditional in terms of Jewish tradition or more secular, how would you describe your family?

C-I think Iraqis in general, were traditional. There was not a spread in religiosity like there is in the west. There basically, Iraqi Jews were traditional, not Orthodox. In our time.

H- Was your house kosher?


H- And did they eat kosher outside the house? Or...

C-We didn’t eat outside the house.


C-There was so McDonalds, No Wendys, No Dunkin Donuts. We had chickens; I remember our chickens being slaughtered in the back. Uh..and, that’s how it was, we didn’t have outside..

H-Do you remember going to the shut(sp) at all, to go shopping?

C-Yes. (nods) Yes, and I remember the stands. We would eat the hot turnips in the winter and uh I remember that we took boats, the maskuff, I remember my father bringing a big fish and we would put it in the bathtub, I remember him poking the eyes of the fish out and we should stamp on it to break the evil eye. And my sister Olivia used to step on it and I thought she was so gross to do that (laughs). To poke the evil eye, yes. And, uh, all this superstition: we cannot eat fish if we’re upset and I always wondered how come we always eating fish, I didn’t have an allergic reaction yet and I’m always upset (laughs). Yeah.

H- What about things like bat gammon, did your father play bat gammon?

C-Oh yes. Shish bish. Yes. He played tournaments/

H-He played/

C-And my mother played, my mother always said, her grandmother used to play til she was 100. “Lily, come, let’s play bat gammon!” That was shish bish, they didn’t call it bat gammon...uh...shish bish that was the entertainment. There were no tvs and videos and

H-Did he play with any of his friends..uh shish bish?

C –Yes

H-Where? In the coffee houses or at home?

C-Uh both, both.


C-And they had the sapah (sp) always. I remember him having the sapah.

H-Did your mother play gin or other kinds of games?

C-Shish bish

H-Just shish bish?


H- And did they bet?

C-Um, um jilla (Purim) was dossa (sp), we always had the cards and as kids we used to go to each others house and bet, yes.

H- And would your dad go and drink coffee in coffee houses, do you remember this at all?

C-Uh, I remember going as a family. I don’t know if my father went by himself.

H- So you didn’t go with him, you don’t have memories.

C-No, I, uh I remember going along the river, there were coffee houses and I remember going with my parents, as a family.

H- Do you remember going to synagogue at all?

C-Yes but I don’t remember the name of the synagogue. I remember big silver cases and the beautiful hazanuties (sp?)

H-And did the women sit separate from the men?

C-I really don’t remember that correctly.

H-Um..Your brother you said was born in, what year?


H-1957, so you were still in Iraq when he was bar mitzvah age, 1970.


H-Do you remember anything about his bar mitzvah/

C-No, no he absolutely did not, we did NOT think of bar mitzvah. Absolutely not.

H-Did you have any Hebrew lessons when you were in Iraq?

C-Only in Fragkenie (school sp?) I remember the teacher teaching us Hebrew and we had to act out the letters at her table. Like for example, I remember being, let’s say the “ah”, (motions a line under) and I lay like (makes self like a line) on the table and she taid to me, “excellent”. You know, we had to “act it out”. Um..yeah. I remember that.

H-Any, any kind of special customs, that you remember?

C-Family customs?

H-Or even community customs, something that defines the group in some way?

C- Like in relation to the holidays?

H-Could be in relationship to the holidays or it could be, or it could be a family kind of thing, where there was an amulet or something that was dear to the family.

C-(shakes head) No, I don’t know.

H-What about any Zionist organizations, anything to do with Zionism at all? Um, you mention like the 6 day war that you that it was “hush, hush” and/


H-But was there any kind of more covert discussion of Zionism or Israel?

C- Within our family?

H-Within your family.

C-No, no, would not be discussed at all. I remember one of the singers: Beruse and she used to sing, (Arabic) and I was even saying it to my husband yesterday, “I will not forget you Palestine” and my parents would say (Arabic) and they used to curse her out so I knew it wasn’t good but we didn’t have any Zionist discussions. Um..I remember one time playing hopscotch in front of the house with my sister Olivia. And two passed by and they said yehut(sp) and backman(sp), we will kill you, we will slaughter you one day. So it wasn’t shocking for me, I mean it was shocking, I ran in and then we have a custom to, to heal...that...what scared us was comforting; and I think that was very JudeaIraqi but I’ll tell you in second. But we ran, we ran in but it wasn’t like coming out of the clear blue sky. That’s what, we were there uh be scolded, I felt. when we told my mother that. Um something called Yuedam (sp) like she would take me back to place where it was said to me and then she pours water on the floor. And she rubs the water on the ground and on my belly and on my knees for my sister and for myself. And then they have a verse to recite and it goes like this. (Arabic-Earth your all around like big medicine, wherever we derive it from it will be medicine for you). That would be the healing verse and she said, like otherwise I would be left traumatized, after this ceremony I will be healed. It’s kinda comforting.

H-Do you do that/

C-So I remember that/

H-Do you do that with your children

C-Yes. They say, “mom you’re crazy” and I say, “that’s fine.” (Laughs) There’s something, it’s like you are talking to mother earth and you’re asking her to heal you. That was before yoga. Ok

H-And there’s a family tradition.


H-What was your relationship to the Arabs, the non-Jews? What you were suggesting is that it was maybe a red flag in some way. But did they ever come into the house, did they ever visit? Did your father have friends?

C-You know, it’s not my father had friends but you know, we, I remember having Muslim Arab friends. Like there was a tent, people across the street, lived in a cooh (sp?) and my mother went out shopping with her like for materials (because everything was hand sown). And they used to come over...Like it’s funny because on a personal note it seemed like we were friendly. My mother had Muslim friends that had four kids and they sent us a letter when we moved to Holland if they could come and visit. And my mother made them the metro cards like with the pictures. So, on a personal note it seemed like we got along great.

H-Then except for these few incidents of tension, the general sense was your mother would go out with this woman and you had/

C-We had Muslim a certain limit

H-So what year did you leave?


H-And why?

C-Why? Because, first of all there was no income anymore and we didn’t live like the other people. We didn’t have the same rights. Jews were not allowed to have a phone in the house starting in 67’. They weren’t allowed to travel outside a certain mileage so we were very limited, Jews could not have an academic career after 1967. So they made it as such that you have no choice but to leave. What would the future hold? How could we live on no income?

H-Do you remember your parents talking to you about this?

C-No, no. I remember leaving. And being instructed not to say a word.

H-And what do you remember about this?

C-I remember my mother getting the house ready. Putting a lamp at the end of the bed and shoes at the other end as if somebody is lying in it. Closing the curtains, putting the lights on as if somebody is still in the house. Leaving all our stuff, taking just a few luggages.

H-Did she tell you this a day in advance or/

C-Same day/

H-Same day.


H-And what did she tell you to do? Go pack some things?

C-Yeah, just take a few things. I remember my father had bought me a circled wire thing with birds for decoration and I thought that would be nice, I brought that; totally insignificant. I could have brought something else instead but uh...a doll he had bought for me, uh two days before we left; I brought that with me. I knew to stay quiet. I knew that we were leaving because otherwise we would never take a train and we would not take a luggage. I mean even though I was 9 I knew we were leaving.

H-Had you taken any trips before that with luggage?


H-On the train?


H-Been outside Bagdad?

H-But had your father travelled at all before bad times?

C-Yes. Yes absolutely.

H-and out of the country also?

C-They did travel out of the country but um...he travelled with my mother for like for a few days and the children were left behind.

H- So if you didn’t have a phone how did you communicate to people?

C-We didn’t.

H- So here you are with your luggage. You had a little suitcase I guess. And do you remember how you got from home to the train station for example?

C- Well, before packing I realized we were going somewhere because I heard my parents talk about, “what if it gets cold in the mountains.” I remember taking a few blankets. We were more concerned about staying alive then bringing our assets. We brought blankets. I remember the week before my mother going out and buying woolen blankets and um...we went from, from, we took a cab to the train station. And the train ride was long from Bagdad to Derbendihug (sp). That’s what I remember.

H-What was the sense you had when you left your house? Do you remember what you did when you left that last time?

C-I was happy to take a train ride. Really, for a 8/9 year old. I didn’t know where it was leading me, I didn’t realize the impact. I didn’t realize the impact. I didn’t know I where I was coming from, how deep we were rooted.

H- Did your older siblings have conversations? Were they chatting about this in a different way then you were? Do you remember their kind of conversation?


H-Yeah during this period of the leaving and train ride let’s say.

C-They were quiet. It was quiet. But quiet. For me and my sister who’s 3 years older, it was exciting to leave. We didn’t know what this meant. We knew but we didn’t understand that people could be oppressors, you know?

H- When you look back now what do you regret not taking with you?

C-Burnt pictures. I remember my mother burning a lot of pictures, because she understood if they had, if we were caught and they were going to go through our home as they did after we were caught and there would be people in the pictures that were accused of espionage-falsely. Um that it would mean trouble for us. So before she left we burnt bins and bins of pictures.

H-You took this train ride, you got to where you were going and then what happened?

C-In a blk Mercedes, the driver came over to us and my father apparently negotiated a price with him, he spoke with him for a few minutes. And he was going to pay him a certain amount to take us over the border to Iran. And../

H-When was this actually, what month?

C-It was..October/November. 72’


C-1972. Cause eventually left around that time(?) And so um..he drove us straight to Mortashirta police station. And my father asked him, I remember my father asked him, he was sitting in the front (and we didn’t say a WORD) and my father said to him where are you going? He said somebody told on you and I’m reporting you that you were trying to escape. And mind you, we were not over the border yet, we were still in Iraq. So, so really theoretically speaking we didn’t do anything wrong but we were imprisoned for that.

H-And what does imprisoned mean?

C-So first we were Mortashirta in the North and we were interrogated

H-Individually or as a family?

C-Uh, first they told my father, you were trying to escape and then we were in the North as a family. And after that we transported to Bagdad and separated; my father and brother, and my mother and sisters and myself.

H-Your brother was?

C-My brother was..15?



H-So you are separated. Then what happened?

C-Separated. Well first. First in the north. I remember they brought us kebab, the Kurds. The brought us kebab and yogurt and we don’t eat meat and milk together and so I thought well prison is really not so bad. Was this shartne(sp) with this opening in the middle and I said to my sister, “this yogurt, doesn’t mama say this is good for the skin?” I remember, going to the room but now in retrospect of course it’s a kid. So I remember going to the bathroom with Olivia and smearing the yogurt all over our faces, it’s not so bad prison. (Laughs) Anyway, the day after we were transported in a jeep, and it’s an open jeep and the car behind us was an Iraqi Jew that realized that we were imprisoned and so my parents signed to him. Um..eventually he’s the one that bailed us out. Actually it’s Abdul Aziz who appeared years after but he was the one that bailed us out. So...we were going to be separated and they called for us to be transported, he, he; it was like the very late and he called and he said, send me some young guys because there are four girls here: my mother and two sisters and me and one of them has all the colors of the rainbow so have a good time. My sister has green eyes. And so my mother said, “I’m not leaving, kill me, if you want kill me here, I’m not leaving.” And I remember there was a banister and she held on to the banister and my father said, “Lily”. And she said, “kill me, I’m not going, I’m not taking my daughters, kill us here if you want...I didn’t know, I knew it was something awful but I didn’t understand the ramifications. So he said, “I have no time for you, you want me to call?” And he dialed and he said, “Send me the oldest men you have.” OK. At least my mother was calmer and we went and we were transported to Zafrania (sp) prison. Which is...prison is not like here, um...and, and we were separated and imprisoned but we had no idea for how long that was going to be. And we stayed there for a few weeks and we didn’t know what was going to be with my father and brother. My mother kissed my brother and father...and, we separated, not knowing when it’s going to end.

H-And then?

C-Then, we were called out and we went for more interrogation in another prison. And we got meals like a bucket of soup, I remember...dry bread and at one point during the ENDLESS interrogations and silly; like my mother had a necklace of fake crystals that she bought when she went out with my father to Austria and they were turning it and saying when you turn it to the right, it makes a light, this color that color, this is what it means And eventually we were bailed out.

H-By the Egy/

C-By Abdul Aziz. But we could not go to our home because the homes were ransacked and sealed. We could not get in.

H-How do you know it was ransacked and sealed?

C-It was sealed, we had no access to it. Because they brought to prison from our home. For example, the taping of my brother’s brisk where he cries, “wah, wah”, and that was proof for espionage, these noises and these sounds. And I also had described about my doll, that my father had bought me two days before. I still have it actually, it’s a little piece of disaster plastic and they had taken it out and they turned it upside down and they said to me, “Your parents (Arabic word) are they going to Israel?” And I knew to say the right answer, “No, no, no.” You know, even at the age of 8 you’re trained how they train from starting to walk your kids for the Olympics? I was trained for this. By 9, I was a player! Yeah.

H-Did you go back and actually see the house again?

C-We couldn’t go in/

H-From the outside?/

C-From the outside? Yes.

H- And what did you feel when you saw that?

C- Not only that, the neighbors told us that people were going in and...oh yeah, I saw my favourite swing in the neighbor’s house, so you know? Everything, it was ransacked.

H-So what happened then, how did you try to escape again, what did you do?

C-We applied for Lisepasse (sp) and um...but we had applied before and it’s part luck. So they gave us the lisepasse for my family, except my father and I don’t think that was an accident. So we waited til my father got lisepasse and we all left. And when we write the reason for leaving is of course to rest and recharge. (Arabic word means to rest and recharge) like we’re going to Monaco, just to recharge from our stay in Bagdad. (Laughs) Yes. So And they know, they know very well and its (Arabic word) that we are moses fans basically. And we left to Turkey from Istanbul

H-By train?

C-No by plane. Air Turkey. And uh, I remember when we got to Istanbul besides the bottled water, the front desk said, “why don’t you”, like we’re tourists, “we suggest you go to Anchora”, like suddenly we were tourists, I was loving it. (Laughs) Til Shlomo from Moset came and sent us to Israel.

H-Excuse me, Shlomo? Where did he come from?

C-From heaven.


C-I think he came from, I he descended from heaven, he came to, because we were a few Iraqi families on that flight and we were in that hotel and Shlomo appeared. And he said, “we know you just escaped. And we want to send you to Israel.” Now, we had no idea how to contact our family in Israel. We don’t know their number, we have not been in touch. So we were sent to Israel.

H-Do you remember the hotel in Instanbul you stayed at?

C- I remember yes. I don’t remember the name.

H-And you all were in one room, or two rooms?

C-Uh we were in two rooms.

H-And how did you eat? Did you bring money so that you could eator did Shlomo provide you with money for food or...?

C-I think we had enough money for food. I think, yeah, we left with 300 dinard. We left with 300 dinard. Um, I guess that’s how much you can take for um as vacationing. And we did eat dolma, and I remember getting very sick that night, very sick. And after that we were sent to Israel.

H-And so you arrive din Israel, what time of the year was that?


H-Hannukah of this year was thanksgiving so?

C-No, it was cold

H-It was December, January?

C-It was December.

H-OK, December.


H-And so you arrive at the airport and who greets you?

C-So we arrived, arrived at the airport and I forgot the women’s name who stayed with me for a long time. Um, we had to, she had like the book for the lost souls. You know, that uh, the lost and found reporting themselves were us: lost and found. And she had the book with family names. And she looked up the phone number “Shamash Azakeriera” and she found my grandmother, she found my father’s brother, um, and we just had to wait and see who passes by.

And I fantasized, I remember; could that be my grandmother, could that be my grandmother? And my sister was going, “No, that can be my grandmother, maybe this is my grandmother. This may be our grandmother!” We didn’t know. And my father has two brothers, one left in the Tuskret and one left much later uh around 68’, 69’. Also escaped, Saleme. Who when he saw Soleme, he realized one the next to him must be Moshe. And my mother recognized her mother, barely and her brother. And she introduced her children, “I have four kids and here are my children.” And it was...strange. To meet my grandmother, mhmm.

H-Your grandmother, was she comforting, did she speak Hebrew? Didn’t speak Hebrew.

C- She spoke old-fashioned Arabic. Um and she came wearing two skirts, one over the other. And when we got there, like 4 hours later, she said, “Look at that, I got the phone call and I ran to put clothes on not realizing I was wearing clothes.” And so my uncles said, “I didn’t want to say anything. I thought that was the new fashion.” So I remember her coming with two skirts, a longer one and a shorter one because she was in such a rush to get to the airport.

H-Did your mother, was it a kind of tearful reunion? When your mother...and her mother?

C-Yes. And she was trying to, she thought my oldest sister looked like her grand, her mother. She didn’t know where to place me, I think (laughs). And my brother was wearing a jacket very like British dressed and they were like admiring it and my mother’s cousin were very Israelis and tried to convince my father to stay in Israel and it was a very confusing time. Very confusing. On one hand we wanted to stay in Israel, on the other hand my father wanted to resume his job which was with the British company and we had a visa to Holland; even though Holland was a strange language we didn’t speak. Uh Dutch so we had a visa for Holland and he wanted to resume from there to England. So we decided to leave Israel after 5 ot 6 weeks and also my father could not comprehend and could not come to terms with my sister going to the Army. It was just too much to handle.

H-Did your sister want to go to the army?

C-No. It was too much. Too much of uh transfer.

H-And why did your, Linda, was it Linda/


H-Why did she have to go to the army?

C-Because she was at an age where’d she go if we had stayed in Israel.

H-And where did you stay when you were in Israel?

C-So we stayed in my grandmother’s one bedroom.

H-And where did she../

C-Apartment in Radmagan.

H-And what did you do with your time?

C-Play with the driedels for the first time and go to the beach. And being in shock to see bikinis for the very first time. And uh hearing about the culture and it was uh a culture shock. I remember the neighbor came and she said, “Oh come, I have TV, you can, I have TV about Iraq.” And I thought if she brought the TV from Iraq that I would watch Iraqi things again so I went and I was disappointed because it was in Hebrew. Things like that.

H-First time you saw TV was in Israel.

C-No she said, I have a TV, that she brought it from Iraq so I figured that she would have Iraqi programs/

H-/NO, had you ever seen TV before?

C-Yes, I did. Yes, Yes.

H-But not in Iraq?

C-Yes, in Iraq we watched but I thought maybe I would see Iraqi programs.

H- Did, did, um, you didn’t understand any Hebrew


H-So what language did you speak in order to communicate?

C-(sighs) It was a part of confusion. My first insult was, my aunt kept saying to me, “buma, buma, buma.” And it’s a curse word in Arabic, buma, bum, and I said to my mother, “I don’t like your sister, sje keeps saying buma, buma.” Buma is an owl that’s like the stupidest thing that you could/ And I said, “Mom, I really Abdur keeps insulting me, she keeps saying me ‘buma, buma, buma look buma.’” So, you know it was all, it was another culture. Yes, it’s a Jewish state but we were so alienated from it, we were alienated from our families, we were alienated from Israel. The first time we landed in Israel my mother and my sister kissed the ground. I remember, they kissed the ground, this is what we were waiting for; this is it, this is the magic land. And then, it was hard.

H- Did your father try getting a job there or?

C-He was hoping to resume...his job in England.

H-And did you go to school while you were in Israel.

C- Yes. I tried. And I was the will for all the practice of all the Arabic curse words that they could imagine that was my welcome. And I said, I’m not going to school (laughs) I’m not going to school anymore. It was, it was a culture shock.

H-So were you viewed as Arab or as Jewish or just a traje, a foreigner?

C-I think, I was viewed as something historical. Because their parents or grandparents were Iraqi. It’s archaic.

H-Did you view your identity as Iraqi then?

C-I had no other choice. I knew nothing else. I just came out of Iraq, this is what I am. I’m Iraqi, I’m authentic. I didn’t know what I was. I was what I was.

H-And so your parents decided they’re going to leave and was this again a discussion with the kids or just/

C-No it was not, it was not a choice.

H-And did they just tell you the day before like leaving Iraq or/ or give you some time to prepare

C-/Yes/ Uh I don’t think they themselves had time to prepare uh because first you have to settle from, from leaving Iraq and then making a decision to leave within 6 weeks so there wasn’t really time to prepare.

H-Was Assatnut or any other Jewish agencies helping you at that time?

C-Uhhh, no.We didn’t take that help because then we would be immigrants and we didn’t want to stay.

H-So what is your memory of leaving..?

C-Um, I left some stuff again at my grandmother and I was worried about that. I was, I was hoping that she would save it for me again. Another, basically an after-birth. Um, and so we came to Holland to a hotel.

H-And this you left Israel in when, February?

C- Yes.

H-And you came to Holland, to Amstredam?

C- Yes. And I saw snow for the very first time in my life, when I got out of the airport.

H-So you just said you arrived in Feb 1973 in Amstredam.

C- Correct.

H-And how old were you then?

C-I was 10.

H-10 and what was life like in Amstredam?

C- Well first, again, that adjustment, that confusion. Like basically being suspended in a vacuum, we didn’t know what’s going to happen next, where we’re going to settle and we didn’t have the intention of staying in Holland after all we didn’t speak the language, we didn’t know any people there,a nd so that was another um stopover to England. But the stopover never happened, it became a stop.

H-And why did it become a stop?

C-(sigh) So the Jewish agency, (Jewish word-JMW) um helped us from the airport to a hotel, around the hanikan blowery actually, and it stunk terribly. Um and uh they were going to help us um meanwhile til my father can settle himself to England. But our stay lasted longer than a few weeks so they couldn’t help us with the hotel and we found um, they found us a place with another few Iraqi families for um children that um like juvenile delinquents. It was called but for Jews. So we stayed with them. And I saw a lot. And we stayed with a few families and they gave us some pots and pans so we can start cooking and uh some rooms to stay til they decide what to do with these few Iraqi Jewish families cause after all it wasn’t like a common thing.

We were not here, we were not there. We got refugees passports. Flotaline (other language?) passport. Um..and after that we were moved to another neighborhood, it was all temporary until my father got very sick. And uh, a few months after that he died of a heart attack. And I don’t know if they did research in studies, how many men died after leaving Iraq because it’s so true what William Shakespeare says, “Take away my honor and I will cease to exist.” And it’s so true. I read one of his letters and he wrote a letter in English to one of his bosses and he wrote, “I am here with my wife and kids and I don’t know how to make ends meet.” And so he died in Holland. And, and there was my mother alone, four kids, not speaking the language and she’s relying on a few pennies that were given to us by the Dutch government.

And so I was 11. Uh my brother, his first experience with putting on to fitting was to say kaddish for my father. And um, I decided not go to school. I wanted to be my mother’s entertainer. In wanted to stay with her and I wanted to be her distraction and I didn’t go to school til I was 14.

Then a rabbi came to the rescue. And even though I could have attended other schools, I went, if I went to school my mother wanted it to be a Jewish one and a Jewish one was just too hard for me. I didn’t do well. I, I, I couldn’t speak the language so he took me to England with the chief rabbi in London in Stamford hill.

H-Who was the rabbi?

C-Rabbi Dunnor. I stayed in their home for a year. I knew nothing about orthodoxy. I went with a luggage filled with pants. And it was shocking cause they took me to Mark and Spencer right away and the put dresses on me. It was another twist in the cultures. I had no idea what she was talking about. She was Jewish, I was Jewish, I didn’t understand. I had no communication with my mother except for that one phone call. And she tells me, “Where are you?” And I said “Well all these men have beards.” And she said, “Good, good. Very good, very good.” So that was for a year. I learned Eglish there and I went back to Holland. My mother was too busy maintaining us alone.

H-And how did she do that, what did she do to do that? What was her work?

C-Being a hero, she was heroic. She didn’t collapse, crumble, and fall and cry. She went out, she shopped, she and she made us all feel like a million dollars even we didn’t, we didn’t have a penny; I never felt deprived. Now I always tell her to today, “I want to thank you for unconditional love, unconditional embrace, unjudgmental.” She made me feel like a million dollars. Each of us.

H- And when you came back from London, were you now Orthodox?

C-Yes and now my family became foreign to me. Because I wasn’t into pop music. It was like a cascade of culture clashes. First with my extended family and then with my immediate family. I thought you know, there is no progress in this family. Let them be what they are. They’re not progressing, they’re stagnating with their friends, they were another, there was no, there was no process. No process, you know? They were happy with what they had and I detested that. I was upset at that. And I said, I’m going to be a dentist before I could read. I said, “I’m going to be a dentist”and I remember my friend saying to me, “first you have to learn how to read.” And I said, “that’s OK.” (Laughs)

Because I felt they were just fine with what they are but I didn’t understand they were almost elated to be where they are. They were free, like she could go shopping, she could, they were elated with where they are but for me it was like, now what? And now what? And I saw other families, I saw other friends, they were, there was an evolution happening and we were just there.

And so in Holland, even as Jews, you know if you think about the time it was like 20 years after the war.And they had their recovery. They really did not, you know, worry about us so much. It wasn’t like an issue, we were invisible.

H-Did you, was there a synagogue you attended? When you got back?

C- Uh, we had to take three trains to get there. And we did./

H-You did that on Shabbat or/

C-To the Spanish/Just on the high holidays.

H-And did you go back to school?

C-After not going to school til I was 14 I decided I want to do something with myself because if I have to wait til my mother tells me to go it’s not going to happen so I took the initiative. And I started going to a Jewish school and I did well and I finished eventually dental school and I uh, I worked. But...and I was on the verge of assimilation.

H-So your Orthodoxy had receded overtime.

C- Yes. Especially during dental school and then, and then I felt like you know, you’re around non-Jews and Dutch and wait, what, what, what’s the big deal? I can be like them, I’m Dutch, I’m almost a blonde, let’s go. (Laughs) We assimilated like the, the pain, you want to hide it, you want to hide it, you want to be far away from it. And it will just go but it doesn’t. It pops up.

And so, I remember IU was Dutch right? And I’m going on a date with a Dutch guy, not Jewish and I’m sitting there and I thought to myself, “what am I doing here?” What? Then what was this trip about? I could have assimilated in Iraq. I don’t have to go through all the travels and I said, I remember, “Oh, I have an appointment with my malpractice insurance broker\, you didn’t know that before? No, I have now (laughs).”

But yeah, I’m laughing about it now but um...I didn’t realize what I was going through. I didn’t realize and I think it settles with time. The, the, the cultural...confusion. I went from, from conservative to, to Dutch where everything is free, where-like I wrote somewhere like in that house for juvenile delinquents, you know, like I see them sunbathing almost naked next to each other, we just came from counting stars sleeping on the balcony—whoaaaa. What happened here in a year? It is all uh, it’s needs time to settle.

H- So in some way you’re expressing, in a way like your a rubber band-you keep stretching out and then contracting and then stretching and contracting. When did you feel solidity?

C- Now. Really, recent. Til I had my children and my children started to ask, “Wait, I don’t understand mom, how are you Jewish from Iraq? Aren’t you an Arab?” They didn’t understand that there were Jews from Arab countries. They’re not educated in that. I noticed that it was not addressed in schools in a shevout (?). There are Jews from Arab countries. They understood that the father could be from Polish origin and Russian origin and be Jewish but they couldn’t get it that I’m from an Arab country and Jewish.

H-Uh, so let’s go back, so you, you decided you’re in the States so how did you get from Amsterdam to the States?

C-I decided that, I couldn’t continue the chain of Judaism in Holland somewhere it will assimilate. It was, it wasn’t secured in anyway, it wasn’t secured. I decided after thinking I will be Jewish and practice Judaism then it wouldn’t be fair to the next generation because there is, there is nothing around them. So I decided to um leave to Israel.

And then this Rabbi that rescued me to Rabbi Dunnor in England said to me, “wait, eait Cynthia, before you go back. Before you go to Israel. Go the Yesheeva on the upperwest side just for three months and, and um and then make aliad to Israel. So said, “OK.” So I came here and this is where I met my husband and I decided even before that I want to give my children more of uh Jewish background. Because if I was going to assimilate with a culture then what was our travel about. If not to preserve Judaism, it would be, I would feel like it’s almost a betrayal—to my heritage.

H-They uh betrayal of your heritage seems to be paradoxical because on the one hand you have come to appreciate what that heritage is/


H-/and on the other hand you have also stated that your children are saying, “What?” Arab-Jew it’s /

C-/But I had no choice. If I had the choice to live in Bagdad the way it was, I would be there. But there is no choice. So in what way can I extend that except the religion, without the culture.

H-So again, let’s step back again; how did you meet your husband and who is he?

C-My husband is...we met him, I met him because I was introduced uh I introduced myself and then they asked me what my profession was and I said, “a dentist.” And they said, “Oh we had a dentist here for dinner last night maybe we should introduce you.” So that’s how we met. And um/

H- His name?

C-Steven Kaplan. Uh his father is Russian and his mother is Polish.

H- And, and when did you get married?

C- We get, originally actually the Kaplan was Kastanovich uh, when did we get married? Uh 6 months after I arrived here in New York.

H-And it was a Sephar/

C- /1992
H- /Sephardi, Ashkenazi wedding?

C-Ashkenazi wedding. And my mother detested the fact that I had to walk around him. She was beside herself. Because when you do that in Arabic culture, it means that you would rather die in his place. And she, it doesn’t mean like breaking down or whatever they say, the breaking down of the walls of Jerusalem or so. No, there is a Arabic expression “Am dao Al dao”, “Am dao Al dao”, like circling around him and what that says if there, if one should die, let it be me. And she was furious, “why did you have to walk around him?” Like she didn’t get it. (Laughs)

“You know mom, this is Ashkenazi culture.” “It’s ridiculous”, she said “it was ridiculous.” And also, she didn’t like the fact that um under the chuppa, the rabbi said “you are a batkohin and Kaplan you are, you’re a kohin.” And she was like, “why did he have to humiliate you like that?”

“I don’t know Mom, what?” Because the Judea-Iraqis, to be a kohin is not a compliment. Because they were known for their temperament and they were not desired because they were very high maintenance. You know, you can’t wrong them because there may be repercussions beyond control like-cosmo (laughs) repercussions so why did he have ti bring this up under the chuppa, she was very upset about that.

And here it was like a compliment, “Whoa two kohamin”, and my mother kept saying, “Yeah, yeah, yeah...Yeah, yea, go on.” You know? (Laughs)

So that is already the first culture clash and then after getting used to my name, “Cynthia”. I got used to my name, this was the British influence; we didn’t take Arabic names like Fatma or whatever so we took something neutral. So when I came here everybody was like, “What, you don’t have a Hebrew name?” Like I was a foreigner again! Like OK, so I decided to take a name that starts with a “C” so the male doesn’t get lost and ends with an “a”. I made it “Chava” so I introduced myself the first time as Chava, my mother didn’t know who they were talking about. Even when my husband called, he said, “Chava” she told me, “I know but who is Chava.” He told me, “your daughter”, she said “But I’m not Chava. Cynthia.” (Laughs)

So I went from Cynthia Shamash to Chava Kaplan and seriously it did have an identity crisis. It does, it does! You become your name. I did not recognize myself. Only on the dental license, I said nobody will know it’s the same person so I put the Shamash in there. And that’s how things stayed.

H- As Cynthia Shamash? Or Chava?

C-I wrote Cynthia Kaplan Shamash. Just so that I am still the, some tie to this old person.

H- And your children, what do they call you? Besides mother?

C-Well they didn’t realize because I was ashamed to name myself Cynthia. There was a time and I became Orthodox and there was a time that I was embarrassed of my Iraqi background. Because Iraqis were not traditional--and my mother like years ago her and her friends, she told me, “come, the Iraqis are having belly dancing” and I’m like, “it’s not for me. No.” I looked at them like they knew nothing about religion. They didn’t know. The rabbis today know. And my mother, like when my husband makes a statement, she go, “I know! He’s teaching me that now! Like I don’t know that!” But, but there is a sense, I felt like the Ashkenazi there was a sense like, “You don’t, you don’t, I’m sorry like with all my due respect. So this is how I perceived it, “she doesn’t know what they’re talking about.” But, but really she does. Really, truly she does. And it took years for me to, to see that. It had to settle. And I regret that I didn’t see it before but there is no regret. It is what it is. It needs time.

H-How many children do you have and names and age please.

C- I have 5 children. Um, my oldest is a girl, Sara Tova and she’s 20. My second child is a boy, Naim, after my father and we added Gavriel with a “v” to accommodate my Ashkenazi side. Uh, after my father and I wanted to add strength. And my third child.

H-What year was he born?

C- 1995. Mt third child is Aaron, and 1997. And my fourth child is Hanana Simhah, he was born in 2000 and Benjamin Yitzhuk in 2003.

H- And they go/

C- My mother loved the Yitzhuk because she said, “Isaac is laughter, laughter” so I did that for her. I told her, “OK mom.”

H- Your mom lives in NY?

C- Yes.

H- And your other siblings, your two brothers and sisters, where do they live?

C-I have one brother in NY, David, and Linda and Olivia live in Israel.

H-And when did they male aliah and go to Israel?

C- Linda left early in early 80’s after she got married to a fellow Iraqi.

H- In where, in Amstredam?

C- In Israel.

H- But she met, she went from Amstredam, back/

C- In Israel. Right. And Olivia made aliah like 5 years ago.

H- From where?

C- From NY.

H- And did um your, your children, do they go to secular schools or do they go to Jewish schools or shivot or?

C- They go to yeshiva.

H- And you would describe yourself now as? Mesarti or Dati or how would you describe yourself?

C- I describe myself as doing the best I can. I’m not pious um I aim to respect people thats. That’s what it boils down to. And continue the linkage of Judaism.

H- How does Zionism play a role in your life? Or does it all, Zionism and Israel?

C- I cannot call myself Zionistic. Because if I was, I wouldn’t be here. I’m very happy to have a state of Israel and God bless them. But if I was Zionistic, I wouldn’t be here.

H- Do you visit Israel?

C-Yes I do.

H- And the children?

C- They do.

H- Do you speak Hebrew?

C- It’s very similar to Arabic so it’s easy for me to pick it up and I pick it up easily but I cannot read a newspaper in Hebrew.

H- And how do you preserve your Sephardic heritage, do you cook Iraqi dishes? Do you uh..

C- What a man question to ask. Always about food (laughs) do I preserve? Well the beginning after my marriage, I didn’t want to preserve it at all. I didn’t. And it wasn’t viewed as a richness. It wasn’t. Not by me and not by people I was around. It wasn’t treasured.

H- And today?

C- Today...I treasure every word, every saying. Like when I go out shopping with my mother, I tell her, “come on, sing me another lullaby or what did they say when uh when this was .overthrown?” Like she comes up with these, do you know, like she used to sing all these things and say like uh, uh about Haim Weitzman, they had a terrible song but it rhymed. She used to tell me, “You know what they used to sing all these Arabs and Muslims.” And I’d say, “Mom, I don’t want to hear it. Really, I have to focus on the road. I don’t want to hear it.” Now, I treasure it. And everything is so historical. Like for example she told me the other day, I start to write it down, now she goes to me, “Again, you’re writing it down?” Things have reversed.

Haim de Regela. Haim about Weitzm/


C- (Arabic saying) we’re going to hang him from his legs. (Arabic) And we’re going to put his father on fire. They used to sing this on the streets! I didn’t know. I didn’t know. About every coup that came up, every, every she, they have these songs. From songs, I know the politics.

H- And, and do you speak to your mother in Arabic still?

C- Yes.

H-What about what you’re wearing? Is that an expression of Sephardic heritage?

C- Well, I try. I try. I didn’t value it. I didn’t. Maybe because I wanted to leave the pain behind. And it takes time.

H-So what do you view as the most important part of your Sephardic heritage background?

C- Most important? Everything. For example, yesterday I was at a wedding but they recite under the chuppa before they break the glass, they recite what my people said. They recite what my people said, “after the destruction of the first temple, we don’t want to play anything let our right hand not work, we don’t want to play the harp because we’ll never forget you.” Where were they going when they said that? Where were they heading. They were heading to my ancestry. These, they are after the destruction of the first temple. When the people thewre recite that, every chuppa, I start to cry. Because it is my exile. I feel it. I feel the expression, this is also Arabic the way they say, “that my tongue should freeze to my palate.”

Yes. This is how we talk. I can read between the Hebrew, the Arameic, the things we would have said. It would be something my father would have said. This is how we express ourselves. This is how we express ourselves. And I was speaking to somebody today and I was saying, “It doesn’t matter where we are, we still live it. We live the expression of our, of our trauma. And time, and time may, we think may heal it but we live it.”

Like for example, you told me I can get back to things right? For example, everybody on the block know I am the hysterical mother. Because when I see something small, I see the whole trauma coming up. Anybody else that grew up here in Queens, sees it as is. My spectrum is wowww. I have such a creative mind. Really?

Last month the door bell rang at 11:30pm. I was pale, I couldn’t, I was about ready to faint because I thought you know, God forbid somebody is going to tell me news about this, about that, about that. I pressed the buzzer, “who is it?” They said, “Police.” I said, “I knew it, I knew it. That’s it.” My husband looked at me, “what’s going on?” He’s eating a banana or an apple, like he’s continuing like that. I’m like, “what’s wrong?!” I said, “Yes. How can I help you?” And I was ready for the worse. “The alarm went off, is everything ok?”I told them, “Everything is fine. Thank you so much!”That’s it. That’s it. But I realize, it’s not normal. If I hear an ambulance, like seriously, I have to pull over and start calling everybody that I know. Like that could be travelling on the LIE at that time. And I realize, that had I been born in Queens and raised in Queens that I may have react differently. (Laughs)

H- Do you see yourself as a refugee or you mention the word exile or migrant or an immigrant? How do you see yourself?

C- I see myself as a/ I think everybody is a separate/ I see myself as an entity with just a bigger baggage than everybody else.

H-So how do you see, how would you define your identity?

C- A Jew from Iraq.

H- What do you want to pass on to your children?

C- That this is the last link. That they should delve into their roots and realize that their heritage was so rich and authentic and that the unfortunate political situation had to cut it off. That their link is so rich and they should be proud of it. And that they should teach their children where they originally came from and that is Babylon. They are children of the people between the two rivers. That their grandmother swam in the Tigres river in the morning. And it smelled different and she floated with the pieces of wood from the date tree. (Arabic word) we didn’t have floaters, we didn’t have synthetic. We had the wood from the date tree that kept us afloat. That the dates that they see in the supermarket is from my backyard.

H- Have you ever gone back to Iraq?

C- Unfortunately not.

H- Would, if you were able to would you want to go back?

C- Yes. If I knew that I can buy a two-way ticket. And that I will be on the way home. On the ticket, I would love to go back. I would love to.

H- So in a sense you left Iraq and you have a wish that you could buy a two way ticket and go back and you described a story of your life in which in some ways it’s like um, um the analogy is not perfect but it’s: like an insect or a snake that keeps shedding its skin.

C- Yeah.

H- And recreate it and recreate it and recreate it. Each time with a different identity. Each time with a different cultural experience. What message do you want to pass on to others who listen to this?

C- The core of my identity doesn’t change. It’s, it’s, it’s in my blood. It’s in my genetic make-up, it is. And I can acclimate to different cultures. You acclimate but I still tear when I hear Arabic music. And I still remember when there is Iraqi Jews get together and I still remember that older women sitting next to the cassette player and singing and she’s in another world. Because it’s her world. This is my world; it’s etched in my genes. It’d etched. My culture, it’s my culture. And somebody said, somebody said it, I don’t remember who it was, “in a culture you cannot just pack and go.”

H-Thank you so much for giving me the honor of the time to interview you. I really appreciate it, Sephardi Voices thanks you.

C- Thank you for having me. Thank you.