Vicar’s plea to save Torah scroll of Iraq's last Jews

Warrior of the Lord: Canon Andrew White

Warrior of the Lord: Canon Andrew White

A vicar who oversees the protection of Baghdad’s seven remaining Jews is hoping to find assistance to save 365 ancient sefer Torah scrolls.

Canon Andrew White said the scrolls were currently kept in the basement of a church museum in the Iraqi capital where they are rotting and liable to be eaten by rats.

He hopes to transfer at least one of the scrolls to Baghdad’s one remaining, non-functioning, synagogue.

Known as the Vicar of Baghdad, Canon White works at the city’s St George’s Anglican Church and provides humanitarian aid to hundreds of Iraqis, including the remaining, tiny Jewish community.

He said: “Their lives are very difficult, very hard. They have very little Jewish life. All their old synagogues are now closed. The only place they can get a minyan is at the US embassy. I have managed to get some of them diplomatic passes so they can go there.

“Now the Americans have gone, everything is in the hands of the Iraqis and it is much harder. The ID cards identify them as being Jewish. It’s impossible to get them a pass without ‘Yehudi’ on it.

“They are mainly old and mainly women, but one person is a dentist and another is an orthopaedic surgeon. But the other five don’t work.

“They have never asked for anything. We get them things that they need — money, food — but they try to turn it down. They are very proud people.”

Canon White, who once studied in a Mea Shearim yeshivah, said that while American Jewish groups had offered support, there has been little backing from European Jews, aside from one or two influential private individuals in Britain. He hopes someone might come forward to offer help with the hundreds of sifrei Torah.
He said Iraqis “know nothing about Judaism” and directly connect the remaining Jews with what they are told about Israel.

“I asked my adopted Iraqi daughter if she knew about the Holocaust. She had never heard of it. All she had been told was that Israel kills Arabs.

“But you go around Baghdad today and still see mezuzot on doors. Once the Jewish community was more than 150,000-strong, the biggest in the Middle East. The community will die out soon and there will be no Jews in Iraq. It is very sad.”

Last updated: 11:40am, June 7 2012