Synagogue picks story of Kurdish Jews as community read
"My Father's Paradise" -- the story of an American Jew's search for his ethnic and religious roots among the Kurds of war-torn Iraq -- has been selected by the Conservative Synagogue as its "community read" for 2015, the synagogue announced.
In the book, first-generation American Ariel Sabar recounts his 2004 trip with his immigrant father to the Kurdish region where his father was born and where their Jewish ancestors had lived in peace with Muslims and Christians for hundreds of years -- until Jews were expelled from Iraq in 1951.
"My Father's Paradise," published in 2009, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for memoir/autobiography. The synagogue is urging members of the community to read it and join in a series of classes and discussions about the book.
The author's father, Yona Sabar, was the last boy in the town of Zakho to become a bar mitzvah, the synagogue said in a news release. He and his family soon after joined an exodus of 120,000 Jews from Iraq to Israel.
In Israel, however, the Kurdish Jews struggled against poverty and bigotry, "watching helplessly as their ancient culture and (Aramaic) language faded into oblivion," according to the release.
Yona Sabar immigrated to the U.S., and the author grew up in 1980s Los Angeles. There, the author told a synagogue publicist, he wanted nothing to do with his father's immigrant heritage.
"Wear the right clothes, ride the right skateboard, put the right gel in my frizzy hair, and I could disown my roots," he said in the news release. "I could throw off the yoke of my father's weirdness and remake myself into this postcard-perfect California boy."
But a reconciliation led to research about his heritage, and back to northern Iraq to interview elderly Kurds.
"What I discovered in writing `My Father's Paradise' was that my own life wasn't the first chapter in some brand new story or the last chapter in an ancient one, but rather the very middle of a still-unfolding story of Jewish survival in lands not our own," he said in the release.
Classes planned at the 30 Hillspoint Road synagogue, it said, include an examination of the Aramaic language, the lives of Jews in Arab countries, the way Jewish cuisine differs from country to country, and the political landscape of Iraq as it relates to the Kurdish people.
The program concludes on March 29, when Sabar will visit the synagogue at 4 p.m. to discuss his book.
For details, email Stacy Kamisar at Stacyk63@aol.com.