As we approach the festival of Passover, when Jews joyfully celebrate their freedom from slavery, our prayers and hopes also go out to the people of Iraq.
*In particular, we thank newly-liberated Iraqis, Hassam Kassam and his friend Hossam, Abdallah Nurredin, Ibrahim Mohamad and Edward Benham, for their help in protecting Bahgdad's Jewish Community Centre and the synagogue from looters.
The survival of these tiny remnants of a once flourishing community encourages the hope of freedom and
respect for all in your new society.
While the Jewish people reflect on the bitterness of oppression, our joy in celebrating our freedom is tempered with acknowledgement of, and reflection on, the suffering brought about by a genocidal leader.
Wishing you all a very happy and kosher Pesach .
Geraldine Jones and Robin Stern
Muslims save Baghdad's Jewish community centre from looters
April 14 2003 - AFP
Iraqi Muslims came to the aid of Baghdad's tiny Jewish community yesterday,
chasing out looters trying to sack its cultural centre in the heart of the
"At 3am, I saw two men, one with a beard, on the roof of the Jewish community
house and I cried out to my friend, 'Hossam, bring the Kalashnikovs!'" said
Hassam Kassam, 21.
Heither Hassan nor Hossam, who is the guard at the centre, was armed at the time
but the threat worked in scaring off the intruders.
Two hours later, the looters returned again and Hassan Kassem used the trick
The centre is located in a freshly-painted white house on a lane off Rashid
Street in Baghdad's old town.
Two days ago, amid rampant looting in the capital, neighbours removed the sign
reading 'Special Committee for the Religious Affairs of Ezra Menahem Daniel' to
make the premises less conspicuous.
On Saturday at about 10.30am, two men seized an opportunity created by the
guard's mid-morning break to try to force open the door in a first attempt to
burgle the centre.
"We came over right way and asked them what they wanted," said Abdallah
They tried to explain that they wanted to talk to the guard, Nurredin said, "but
when they saw the look we were giving them, they left without saying another
Yesterday, Hossam the guard left to look for a real gun in case the persistent
"The Jews have always lived here, in this house, and it is only normal that we
should protect them," said Ibrahim Mohamad, 36, who works in a small undergarments factory near the centre of town.
Although the majority of Jews fled the country in the early 1950s, many of their
Muslim tenants come each week to pay their rent to an old woman at the centre,
In the Batauin district near the Saddun commercial artery, the entrance of a
large synagogue is blocked by an immense iron portal.
The way onto the street is obstructed by trees and chairs. A self-defence
militia formed on Saturday to fight back against bandits.
"We are defending the synagogue like all houses on the street and we will not
let anyone touch it," said Edward Benham, a 19-year-old computer science
The young Christian said that Jews normally came each Saturday but because of
the lingering security problem, no one came last Saturday.